Adonal Foyle, Altruism and Happiness

A lot of people, even NBA players with their millions, have complaints.

It's understandable. We all do.

And in hard economic times, we all have even more to winge about. Life is stressful.

If anyone in the NBA has a right to be a little at the end of his rope right now, how about Adonal Foyle? He'd really like to play two more years in the NBA, but it's mid-August and he still doesn't have a job. Meanwhile, he has a ton of non-paying (or indeed, probably work Foyle pays to do) work running camps in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for his Kerosene Lamp Foundation.

All the while, he's waiting for the phone to ring.

But when I talked to him the other day, on the phone from the Caribbean where his camps were in session, he sounded like the happiest man in the world, with his booming voice filling rooms at both ends of the phone call.

Was spending all that time with kids rewarding for him?

"You have no idea," he replied. "There is no higher calling than being a teacher. If I'm on one leg when I'm 95, I'll still be doing this."

The key to the camps he said, is to make it all about the kids, many of whom are commonly expected to be seen but not heard. "We are being of service to them," says Foyle. "A lot of people don't give them what they want."

The camps are thick with life lessons -- about HIV, about academics, about what it takes to succeed -- as well as basketball teaching from people like Bo Outlaw, Courtney Lee and Foyle himself. There are also tons of freebies, like jerseys, bags, books, notebooks, and meals.

The result is a series of camps that more than 1,200 kids will be part of officially, and even more unofficially.

"The youngest children we invited were seven years old," Foyle explains. "But all these younger kids, four, five, six years old, were hanging outside the gate, all day. They were just watching, and they wanted so badly to be a part of it. So we ended up letting them in, too."

Foyle says the whole experience has been a blast, and his tone of voice is convincing. (Who's having the best time on the trip, I asked? "Bo Outlaw!" said Foyle. "He's a real silly kid, with a great zest for life.")

Only at the end of our call did I even ask about his basketball career, which is loaded with uncertainty, and even that talk couldn't sour his mood.

I was reminded a little bit of a radio show I heard the other day. American Public Media's Speaking of Faith had an interview with immunologist Esther Sternberg.

She made an amazing point about how people can deal with stress in uncertain economic times. "Altruism," she said, "is another terrific way to counter stress and to help the situation." She talked at some length, and it was convincing.

Doing nice things for others ... it doesn't just help the others.