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Mothers of Utah Jazz players share success stories with local single moms

Published: Sunday, March 23 2014 10:14 p.m. MDT

Shelbia Dean Clark (standing), mother of Utah Jazz player Ian Clark, discusses parenting and other topics with Utah mothers and mothers of other Jazz players during a People Helping People event on Saturday, March 22. 2014. The goal of the organization is to help get children out of poverty by teaching their moms how to earn a living wage. At left is Ronda Burke, mother of Utah Jazz player Trey Burke. At right (in green) is Larisa "Penny" Garrett, mother of Utah Jazz player Diante Garrett, and Dina Burks (in yellow), mother of Utah Jazz player Alec Burks.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Raising a professional basketball player requires a lot of attention and dedication.

And behind at least four of them is a very proud mother.

"It's very hard to get into the NBA, but it is even harder, harder, harder to stay there," said Larisa "Penny" Garrett, mother of Utah Jazz point guard Diante Garrett. "I tell him I'm proud of him every single time we talk."

Garrett and the mothers of three other young players for the Utah Jazz regaled a room full of single moms and some single dads on Saturday, teaching them that every child needs a dose of reality, but also loving and nurturing parents who provide opportunities to help them reach their potential.

"We made our kids a priority," said Shelbia Dean Clark, mother of Utah rookie guard Ian Clark. "No matter what came up, if the kids had something they wanted to do, what we wanted to do went on the back burner."

"You want to live a life so you can be an example to your children," she said. "Talent and skills are one thing, but attitude is what keeps you where you are."

The women were in town for other Jazz festivities, but participated in Saturday's event, hosted by the local nonprofit People Helping People to help women who find themselves in difficult situations. The organization hosts bi-monthly meetings, teaching low-income women how to develop job skills.

"Seventy-five percent of single moms on the Wasatch Front live below self-sufficiency," said People Helping People's program director Marva Sadler. She said most of the clientele the organization serves are single moms and all of them are low-income, mostly because they are unemployed.

"What we heard today was reinforcement of what we teach from people who are not their teachers and their counselors," Sadler said. "These are real people from the real world who have a spotlight on them because they have had incredibly successful children."

She said some of the mothers of Utah Jazz players "started out in very normal circumstances" and have some of the same backgrounds as Utah moms face.

Three of the four Jazz moms began their decades-long careers at the bottom, working long and/or late hours in the mail rooms of various companies. They provided their own day care when the kids were young and they continue to work, even as their now grown children are breaking into stardom in the sporting world.

"You have to be good at something, you've got to go to school for free," Dina Burks said she told her young kids. Her son, Alec Burks, also a Jazz guard, had a love for basketball starting from a young age and while he was largely self-motivated to practice and get better, Dina Burks said she and her husband had to provide opportunities for their son to "take his interest, his desire and his commitment to the next level."

Jazz guard Trey Burke's mom, Ronda Burke, said her son was small, so he learned to be fast. He was also determined to play professional basketball and his father always said, "There's something wrong with him if he doesn't want to win."

Ronda Burke said that while it is important to teach people that "they can be whatever they want to be," it is also important to tell them that they have to work for it.

"We are parents first, their friends second and their guidance counselor third," she said.

Much of the players' successes, say their moms, came after much work and dedication from their mothers and their families.

The same is true for women who regularly attend People Helping People events, Sadler said. The goal of the organization is to help get children out of poverty by teaching their moms how to earn a living wage.

"Most do not get the help they need because giving them individual handouts or assistance helps them in the short-term, but in the long-term, they need to learn how to provide for their families," she said.

Single mom of four, Connie Kelsch, of Park City, said hearing the stories of the Jazz players' mothers helps her remember that "we've all got to start somewhere."

"It's inspiring to see it put into practice," she said.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

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