Thankful Palmer Giving Back, Making A Difference
SPOKANE, Wash. — For a couple hours on a wintry November day, the man affectionately known as Crazy acted like every other fan inside the McCarthey Athletic Center. He gyrated to the music blaring over the arena’s speakers. He proudly displayed his homemade sign for the television cameras. He even hooted and hollered for the Zags as they demolished another overmatched foe.
Following the game, in what has become a tradition for the Gonzaga women’s basketball team, the players returned to the court to sign autographs and take pictures with their adoring fans. Crazy, though, cared about only one player — his friend, Haiden Palmer.
He waited patiently as she slowly made her way through the gaggle of fans. Finally, she spotted him. They embraced and exchanged a few words. They smiled and posed for pictures. In this moment, Crazy was no different from any other follower of Bulldog basketball.
Eventually, with the last autograph signed and the final picture taken, the fans filed out of the building and into the cold night. They jumped in their vehicles and headed for the warmth and coziness of their homes. All except for Crazy. He has no home. He is one of the city’s approximately 1,300 homeless people.
“They are just human, too, and most of them are happy,” Palmer said. “They are just so thankful for a simple meal or clothes. It has really changed my perspective on life and made me a lot more thankful.”
Palmer, a senior standout who leads the Bulldogs in scoring and steals, met Crazy while volunteering for Blessings Under the Bridge. In addition to providing things like clothing, blankets and haircuts, this non-profit organization has coordinated weekly communal meals for Spokane’s homeless since 2007. Volunteers like Palmer spend their Wednesday evenings serving those meals under the I-90 overpass.
“Helping other people helps you because it teaches you so much,” Palmer said. “Crazy is so optimistic. He is a homeless guy who just loves life, and he always says, ‘Smile, what do you have to be upset about?’ ”
After spending some time together, Palmer learned about Crazy’s love for basketball. He used to play he would often tell her. So, Palmer decided to invite him to a game. He could have some fun, she figured, and escape the bitterness of Spokane’s frigid winters, if only for a few hours.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted to help those who were struggling,” she said, “partly because I have struggled and I know how much it helps when you have somebody who helps, or just smiles at you.”
On Sunday, Palmer will join Crazy and other people involved with Blessings Under the Bridge for the Smile Movement, which is dedicated to uplifting and healing the world by being a presence of positive change. They will spread throughout downtown Spokane and hold signs that read, “Smile, it’s more fun.”
A native of Moreno Valley, Calif., Palmer first became involved in Blessings Under the Bridge through her Bible study group. Faith has always been an important part of her life, Palmer says, but as she has matured so too has her relationship with God.
“Growing up, what I would mostly think about is what you’re not supposed to do,” she said. “When I got older, I started to look more into the spiritual side of it and the idea of just loving God and loving people.”
Palmer says basketball is the vehicle, given to her by God, through which she can achieve the greatest good. Indeed, her list of off-the-court service activities is as long as her catalog of on-court accolades.
“I realize that basketball is a gift for a reason,” Palmer said. “I’m supposed to use that for Him, to help others.”
In addition to Blessings Under the Bridge, which she holds closest to her heart, Palmer has volunteered at the West Central Community Center, which offers social, health, education and recreation services to low-income families in the area. While working there, she organized an afterschool basketball program and an end-of-summer barbecue.
Palmer is also regularly involved with the Hutton Settlement, which provides a safe and healthy home to children in need. She spends Tuesday nights there, tutoring the residents. She is particularly close to a young boy at Hutton who, like Palmer, has an affinity for hoops. She says he is talented, but needs to improve his grades. She is determined to help him.
“It’s not just about me anymore,” said Palmer, who is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Communication and Leadership Studies.
A professional basketball career surely awaits Palmer when her time at Gonzaga ends, but her aspirations extend well beyond the court. Her goals include eventually opening her own community center, complete with a computer lab, kitchen and, of course, a gymnasium.
“It’s easy to get caught up in worldly things, like playing bad or losing a game,” she said. “Whenever that happens, I just try to count my blessings and realize how fortunate I am. I know I got here because of God, and I’m just trying to give back what I’ve been given.”