There is one extra child somewhere in Toronto clutching a laptop computer because a decade ago Raptors star Rudy Gay decided to change his uniform number.
The Raptors forward was at Lord Dufferin Junior and Senior Public School in downtown Toronto on Friday, lending his name and his time to the school’s Kids, Cops and Computers program.
Gay donated 22 laptops to the program which gives kids in less affluent neighbourhoods access to computers.
The number 22, of course, corresponds with the number Gay has worn through six and a half seasons in Memphis and the half season he played last year with the Raptors.
Gay had worn 21 through his high school years but wanted something different for his first season at the University of Connecticut.
“Going into college I had number 21 and it was like I wanted to take it another level in my career,” he said. “I had some success with 22 and I just kept it.”
The children, in turn, committed to citizenship, school and community initiatives.
Kids, Cops and Computers is a branch of the Merry Go Round Children’s Foundation, an organization founded and chaired by Scott Paterson, a Toronto-based investment banker.
Since 1997 the organization has put laptops, desktops and now tablets in the hands of 1,800 students from the public and Catholic boards.
“We want to give access to state of the art technology,” Paterson said. “There’s homework, communications, ability to surf the internet, computer programming; the kids can undertake all these things with these computers.”
The program also provides young students with police mentorship and information on the multitude of challenges, from cyber-bullying to drug use, facing young people.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said Gay’s presence underscores the importance of the initiative.
“Rudy is very humble. He knows that he’s a role model and I think his message to these young kids about respect, the importance of school and learning and using the laptops in a responsible way, those things make a difference. When you attach a star player to an initiative like this one – a player who these young kids want to be like him or want to listen to – I think that makes a huge difference. It’s a big, big benefit.”
Gay said he grew up in Baltimore without a person from the community offering this kind of leg up “but I know how much easier it could have been if I had somebody to look to and guide me to the right spot.”
Making a connection, he said, “only takes one moment.”