The idea came to Gonzaga freshman guard Nolan Hickman a few years ago after the conclusion of his annual basketball camp for kids in his hometown of Seattle.
“Maybe we should turn this into a foundation,” Hickman thought. “I gathered all my family and we got it going. We made a website first and it blew up from there.”
That’s how Hickman, with a lot of help from family and relatives, came to be the founder of The Give Back Foundation, which intends to transform the health and wellness of youth within communities by providing families with essential resources, according to the foundation’s website.
Identifying how Hickman became motivated at such a young age to even consider starting a foundation is easy. A major assist goes to parents Nolan Sr. and Champale.
They made it a point to help others in the Seattle community, and not just during the holiday season. They volunteered in various capacities, usually with young Nolan in tow if he wasn’t at a practice or game.
“Nolan has always been a giver,” Nolan Sr. said. “We would feed the homeless at soup kitchens, things of that nature, and he’d be right there, giving away hats and blankets. He would always lead the bunch.”
Their message of giving back hit home with Hickman in more ways than one.
“That’s something my mom used to tell me: ‘If you’re fortunate enough to do something for somebody less fortunate, why not do it,’ ” said the 18-year-old Hickman, who credits his mom with coming up with the foundation’s name. “That’s something I’ve lived with for a long time.
“Just because of the simple fact I grew up in the same community that I’m giving back. Seeing them, me cooperating with them and doing the big brother things around the community, it just warms my heart.”
And countless others on the receiving end of Hickman’s philanthropic efforts. His parents beamed with pride when their son broached the idea of the foundation, but they wanted to make sure Nolan was actively involved in every aspect.
Nolan Sr. had obvious concerns with his son’s busy schedule as a five-star recruit playing high-level prep and AAU basketball while staying on top of his studies.
“My wife and I thought it was so awesome,” Nolan Sr. said. “He was like, ‘I want to do this all the time.’ We said, ‘Great, but you do realize this takes a lot of time.’ We tried to explain the business side to him. We were like, ‘Hey, you’re going to have a full plate, studying.’ But he made a pact with us that it was if you really want to go through with this, we’re going to back you and all we ask is you to be all in.”
Hickman’s actions have demonstrated he’s all in. When the COVID-19 pandemic turned the sports world upside down, Hickman still held his basketball camp virtually.
At his most recent camp in August, Hickman called on GU freshmen teammates Chet Holmgren and Hunter Sallis to lend a helping hand.
“It was easy,” Hickman said. “I’m their teammate, they are brothers at the end of the day and we’re doing it for a great cause. They loved it, and I showed them around the city.”
The day after Hickman’s camp, the three Zags participated in Seattle native and longtime NBA standout Jamal Crawford’s popular Crawsover pro-am league. Hickman considers Crawford a mentor. The two stay in touch through texts and phone calls.
“Even with Nolan at school, there’s been some late nights and he’s had to get school work done and we’ve had to move meetings back,” Nolan Sr. said. “He really wants to touch people in every community. He’s actually looking to do some things in the Spokane area as well.
“He’s kind of a self-starter, but he does understand the power of people knowing him, coming to see him play and why not use his star power, whatever little or lot he has, to influence kids.”
Hickman’s schedule limits the foundation’s number of events, but he did lead a coat drive last March for Hope Place, a shelter for women and children in Seattle.
More than 1,000 coats, new or gently used, were donated, but Hickman wanted to do more. He had the coats put on racks so the women and their families could go shopping.
“He really wanted to do it that way,” Nolan Sr. said. “It was really cool, really successful. The rest that was left over was donated to Goodwill and the Salvation Army.”
In addition to being all in, Nolan’s parents insisted that their son speak to people or groups in the community on foundation-related initiatives. Nolan wasn’t thrilled initially, preferring to stay in the background, but he warmed to the task.
“He’d say, ‘I don’t want to do interviews, I don’t want to brag or boast,’ ” Nolan Sr. said. “But it’s really awesome watching him grow in the realm of speaking. They’re really impressed with his maturity.”
Impressed and surprised are common descriptions of the reaction from people after learning Hickman’s age when he speaks in public or works with youngsters at his camp.
“People do get surprised,” Hickman said, “but for me, I just feel like it’s another hobby to do when I’m not doing basketball or school. I don’t think nothing of it.”
Others do, including teammates.
“It’s super special, just how young he is,” Gonzaga senior point guard Andrew Nembhard said. “And it shows how much he cares for his community back home and how he can make an impact at such a young age.”
“People are kind of floored and it’s, ‘Am I supposed to be talking to you?’ ” Nolan Sr. said. “We’re working through the process of changing the foundation to the Hickman Legacy Foundation and The Give Back would be under its umbrella. Our lawyer brought it up during the paperwork: ‘Hold up, how old is he?’”
Gonzaga athletic director Chris Standiford said Hickman’s foundation was vetted by the school’s compliance office. The Hickman family has been careful to make sure the foundation doesn’t interfere with Hickman’s eligibility.
“He’s a great kid, terrific communicator,” Standiford said. “He’s a special young man.”
Hickman is quick to credit his foundation team, which includes Nolan Sr., Champale, 14-year old sister Nyah and 6-year-old brother Noah. Champale and Nyah are on the foundation’s board. The treasurer is a close friend of Nolan’s dad.
Hickman wants to expand the foundation to include different sports and encourage physical activity for kids. He’s kicking around a few ideas to help those in need in the Spokane area.
Nolan Sr. said the foundation this week is planning to help a youngster whose family couldn’t afford it to join Seattle Rotary’s AAU program.
“Anything kids need or families need we’re trying to help,” Hickman said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world, just to see these people are impacted by what I’m doing and they’re loving it and embracing it. It makes me inspired to do more.”