Seventy girls aged 6 to 14 hit the basketball courts March 4 for Hillside Connection’s second annual GameLikeHer Basketball Camp. Hillside Connection was founded in 2017 by Terrell Brown, who played basketball for Otero Junior College and Montana State University before turning his attention to service and being “a living example” for kids in Southeast Colorado Springs.
The 501(c)3 aims to leverage basketball to create pathways to opportunity for youths, and GameLikeHer is part of that mission. “We’re solely focused on that empowerment piece,” Brown says. “It’s a basketball clinic — we have different skill stations, obviously — but there’s a vision board station in the middle of the clinic. Girls are drawing about their next steps, what they want to become.”
After GameLikeHer’s morning skills clinic, the girls attended a Women’s Empowerment Panel where business leaders and educators answered questions about self-confidence, communication skills, power of voice, self-doubt, adversity, tackling discouragement, and pursuing dreams.
Panelists included Dr. Regina Lewis, professor at Pikes Peak State College; U.S. Bank Business Access Advisor Natasha Hutson; Chef Chantal Lucas, owner of Luchal’s; B&M Construction President Barbara Myrick; and Julie Ramirez, founder of Daily Dose 719.
“How are we igniting the next women CEOs, teachers, artists?” Brown said of the panel. “This could be a start to spark some of that mindset.”
GameLikeHer, which Brown describes as “exclusive, creative, fun, inspiring,” jumped from 47 participants last year to 70 this year.
It’s important to Brown for the program to stay financially accessible. “Everything that we do, we clearly communicate scholarships are available,” he says. The non-scholarship rate for the camp was $25 per kid, which included the clinic instruction, panel and brunch.
“We’re providing exquisite sports opportunities for kids.”
— Terrell Brown
Brown says 98 percent of all Hillside Connection’s income — grants, sponsorships and donations — goes toward programming. “This is an example of philanthropy the right way, right?” he says, adding, “If you’re thinking about administrative costs, things of that nature, you’re not thinking about the community or an experience.”
Hillside Connection is mostly run by volunteers, with one part-time staff member. Brown himself handles Hillside Connections’ operations on a mostly volunteer basis.
“We’re providing exquisite sports opportunities for kids [through] connections with the [Denver] Nuggets, with UCCS, at minimal to no cost,” says Brown. “That’s unheard of.”
GameLikeHer came about as a collaboration between Brown and Keion Arkwright, brand manager for former Nuggets point guard Monté Morris, and former director of youth basketball for the Nuggets. Brown knew Arkwright was “a huge advocate on women’s empowerment.” So he reached out.
In Southeast Colorado Springs, Brown told Arkwright, “there’s a lot of young girls who don’t even get to pick up a ball or get a chance to play until they’re in middle school. That’s a problem.”
So the two got to work brainstorming GameLikeHer. “He’s in the for-profit lens, I’m in the philanthropic lens; we’re able to put our brains together for the greater good of society,” says Brown. “I think it’s a story greater than just us collaborating,” he adds. “Everyone’s talking about diversity, equity and inclusion. What does that look like? [Our programs were] two minority-
Brown and Arkwright were able to involve female volunteers from Harrison High School and secure donations from Harrison School District 2 for this year’s GameLikeHer.
Hillside Connection takes a “boots on the ground” approach to getting the word out about its programming. To Brown, it’s important to keep networking and personal connections central to underserved areas. “We need to stay true to that as we continue to try to expand,” he says.
Brown, whose mother played basketball at Mitchell High School, grew up in Southeast and learned how to play basketball from the women in his neighborhood. He remembers Fatima Maddox, who played for Temple University in the early 2000s, teaching him “how to do a crossover at the Boys & Girls Club back in the day.” He’s called basketball “the sport that helped me see the world and get where I am today,” and he believes it can change kids’ lives. That’s why GameLikeHer, Brown says, “hits a heartstring with me.”