Stephen Curry's Eat. Learn. Play Foundation Taps NFTs, FTX Relationship To Help Oakland Families

Zinger Key Points
  • The Eat.Learn.Play Foundation receives funding from organizations like FTX, says CEO Chris Helfrich.
  • The foundation tries to raise up to $20 million a year for programs and community partnerships in Oakland, he adds.
Stephen Curry's Eat. Learn. Play Foundation Taps NFTs, FTX Relationship To Help Oakland Families

Benzinga is hosting a two-day crypto event at New York City’s Pier Sixty, Dec. 7-8, 2022.

The likes of Kevin O’Leary and Anthony Scaramucci, as well as leaders at DriveWealth, Prime Trust, Synctera, and beyond, will talk about controversial topics, perspectives on opportunities, and threats in fintech, as well as share insight into how they’re monetizing on disruptive trends.

Ahead of this, Benzinga will periodically publish articles on those organizations using crypto, NFTs, and fintech to make big impacts. Today’s chat is with Chris Helfrich, the CEO of the Eat. Learn. Play Foundation.

The following text was edited for clarity and concision.

Q: Hey Chris, nice to meet you. Want to kick it off with an introduction?

Chris Helfrich: I was employee number one at Eat. Learn. Play.

Essentially, I started before the foundation ever existed, partnering with Stephen and Ayesha Curry in terms of dreaming of what this foundation could be in late 2018 when they became serious about merging their philanthropic interests and having an impact.

What’s your role at Eat. Learn. Play?

I've been at the helm of Eat. Learn. Play, helping create and run the organization. My relationship with the Currys dates back to 2011 when I recruited Stephen to be an ambassador for the UN (United Nations) Foundation and our anti-malaria initiative which I was running at the time.

This was Stephen’s second or third year in the league. He suffered chronic ankle injuries and the Warriors were near the bottom of the Western Conference. I'm enough of a sports fan to know that Stephen had a lot of potential but couldn't have known that he would become a superstar multi-time MVP and championship winner.

What did you and Stephen do while working together through the UN Foundation?

Over the course of over five years, Stephen and I traveled to refugee camps on the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in northwest Tanzania.

The first time Stephen met President Obama was when he was in D.C. advocating for increases in U.S. aid to fight malaria and other infectious diseases. When you travel with someone to faraway places like refugee camps in Sub-Saharan Africa, you really get to know them.

And so, Stephen and I developed a familiarity and trust with one another. Eventually, I ended up in a very fortunate position where I was the person that they called when they were interested in finally putting together the Eat. Learn. Play Foundation.

What was the exact inception of Eat. Learn. Play?

At the very end of 2018. We took six or seven months to build this thing to the point where we were ready to launch it. We launched in July of 2019.

We are coming off of celebrating our third anniversary.

How big of a venture is this? How many people are you working with on a daily basis?

I think a lot of our growth was spurred by some of the responses that we helped lead in Oakland, feeding kids and families during the COVID pandemic.

I was a staff of one the first 11 months at Eat. Learn. Play Foundation. We've just hired our 14th and 15th people. We are now raising and distributing between $15 and $20 million a year into programs and community partnerships in Oakland.

Over the three years, we've granted funds to nearly 30 local organizations across all three of our pillars, and we’ve had quite a lot of impact to date. We are still learning and when we look at our lifecycle, and what we want to achieve, we're just getting started.

Why Oakland?

It's worth mentioning that when we were sitting around the table dreaming up the foundation, Ayesha and Stephen felt pretty strongly about several things.

It is the case that the work would primarily be done in their adopted hometown of Oakland, which is not only a community where there's a lot of need, but it's a community that really wrapped its arms around Stephen and Ayesha.

It's where they became a family and had kids.

Tell me about the pillars that guide the work you do.

Moreover, the issue areas that we work on – the Eat, the Learn, and the Play – were things they felt very strongly about from the jump and that guide our work to this day.

The Eat pillar comes from Ayesha, and that's around trying to address hunger, nutrition, and food insecurity in Oakland.

Right now, 37% of kids remain food insecure in Oakland. They do not have consistent, reliable sources of nutrition. So we are working hard at that and, to date, we’ve distributed 25 million meals out into the community.

For our learn pillar, we arrived at early childhood literacy as the dominant focus of our work in the education space. Right now, in Oakland, less than 15% of Black and Latino students in some Oakland elementary schools are reading at grade level.

We know that grade-level reading in elementary school is one of the key determinants of graduation rate, career success, and participation in the criminal justice system. If kids can't be reading at the right time, then it paints a bleak picture for the community overall.

And then the last thing, play. It’s the recognition that so much character development happens when kids are physically active and play youth sports. We are doing a lot and about to make major investments to make sure kids have safe places to play throughout Oakland and that they've got opportunities and access to sports programming and summer camps.

At the heart of everything we do is this belief and understanding that talent is everywhere, but opportunity isn't. We're trying to make a major dent in that through every dollar donated by organizations like FTX, NFT holders, and beyond.

Crypto and NFTs. That’s something the team is involved in. When did you realize those tools could be used to deepen the impact of your organization?

The NFTs helped unlock a ton of impact in the Oakland community for Eat. Learn. Play.

This NFT project took hold as Stephen was approaching the all-time three-point record. We are so fortunate at Eat. Learn. Play that Stephen, without hesitation, decided he would not profit off of these commemorative NFTs.

He wanted 100% of the proceeds of the NFTs to benefit Eat. Learn. Play. What’s cool, too, is that with residual sales, Eat. Learn. Play will receive a percentage of every NFT resale.

The funds that have been generated are close to $2 million over the last eight months. All of the money from these NFT holders is going right back out into the Oakland community to advance the work we're doing in all three pillars.

Separately, FTX is a dear partner of Stephen’s and, on top of that $2 million, they give very generously to Eat. Learn. Play. It's remarkable the outsized role crypto has played.

And, if NFTs are resold, you receive some sort of royalty, right?

Every time these NFTs are resold, 10% goes into Eat. Learn. Play.

And so the fact that these entities generated so much income for us was wonderful. But it's also incredible the way that this is becoming a recurring source of revenue for the organization, that we can put it right back out into the community.

Anything to add?

One of the things that we're most excited about is that this is an emerging field. The ability to get our toes wet has been great. It has been fun to be sort of at the front end of this new frontier and thinking through how the crypto space can unlock impact in the community.

It is really exciting and FTX could not be a better or more generous crypto partner.

Posted In: Ayesha CurryChris HelfrichEat.Learn.Play FoundationFTXStephen CurryFintechInterview
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