Tamika Catchings partners with Tennessee

Former Lady Vol Tamika Catchings was in town Monday to announce a venture with the University of Tennessee and her Catch the Stars Foundation Inc. to help at-risk students in Knox County complete their education.

Fritz G. Polite, the director of the university's Institute for Leadership, Ethics and Diversity program (I-LEAD); Bob Rider, dean of Tennessee's College of Education, Health and Human Sciences; and Catch the Stars Foundation Executive Director Lori Satterfield will facilitate the program.

It was announced Monday during a press conference inside Thompson-Boling Arena.

Tamika Catchings, a former Lady Vol All-American, Olympian and WNBA All-Star, began her foundation in 2004, three years after she was drafted by the Indiana Fever following her injury-shortened senior season in 2001.

She recently was named one of the "Top 5 Most Positive Athletes in the World" by the United Nations NGO Voting Academy and also is one of 10 finalists for the Jefferson Awards, the "Nobel Prize of community service," that will be announced next month.

The focus of the foundation will be on students who attend the new Paul L. Kelley Volunteer Academy, a school for youngsters needing a nontraditional means of graduating from high school. Three students attended Monday's press conference to represent the school.

The school is located in the Knoxville Center shopping mall and is named after Kelley, a former teacher, assistant superintendent and school board president. It operates under a partnership between the Simon Youth Foundation and Knox County Schools, with funding also provided by the Great Schools Partnership and the Cornerstone Foundation.

Simon Youth Foundation is a nonprofit organization started by the mall's owner, Simon Property Group, to create mall schools that provide alternative options for at-risk students and post-secondary scholarship programs for high school seniors.

"The biggest thing UT is going to give them is intellectual capital," Polite said. "Our faculty and our students, including our student-athletes, will become involved with Catchings' foundation to encourage the youth of Knoxville. The Paul L. Kelley Volunteer Academy gives us a place to start."

Indianapolis philanthropist Herb Simon is co-founder of the Simon Property Group and owner of both the Indiana Fever and Indiana Pacers. Rider formerly lived in Indiana and served on the Simon Youth Foundation Education Committee. The Simon Property Group owns or has an interest in 393 properties in North America, Europe and Asia, including the Knoxville mall. The foundation currently operates 25 schools across the country.

VIDEO COVERAGE: Dean Bob Rider of the University of Tennessee's College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, Pat Summitt and Tamika Catchings.

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