NBA players and kids gathered together with politicians and business magnates to celebrate the unveiling of the renovated Rippy Reading and Learning Center in Lehi on Tuesday afternoon. About 100 people turned out for the event.
"The renovations have just been a real experience for me and for the entire staff," said center director Hesther Rippy at a news conference on Tuesday. "I can hardly wait to go over there, and you can see what has been done to your center."
Toyota, an official NBA marketing partner, was the sponsor of a $65,000 grant through Toyota Project Rebound, which gave the center a facelift and upgraded computer equipment.
"We're really proud to be a part of this. You know I'm just one of 1,250-something Toyota dealers across the country and boy, do I ever feel excited to have Toyota's money come to Utah County and Lehi, Utah. It is a great deal," said Brent Brown of Brent Brown Toyota.
NBA D-League Utah Flash owner Brandt Andersen, with the cooperation of Lehi City, chose the Rippy Family Literacy Center for the grant.
"I called [Lehi city administrator] Jamie Davidson when I was approached about this, and there was no hesitation in it at all for Jamie. He immediately said the reading center," Andersen said. "We realized this was a special and unique opportunity."
NBA D-League President Dan Reed said that through the NBA, $91 million has been used for community projects, 331 education and play centers for kids have been built and 700,000 volunteer hours have been donated. Having the first part of the unveiling program at a Lehi Legacy Center basketball court was fitting as was the timing, the week of the D-League Showcase at the McKay Events Center, he added.
All 16 NBA D-League teams were represented by players at the unveiling as well as a healthy representation of Utah Flash.
"It's part of our commitment to make sure that we come actively here," Andersen said. "We promise to come back here often. Hesther [Rippy] and I talked about that a few times. This is a place that the Flash has adopted."
Rippy said later that the players would be reading with the kids at the center, and Andersen agreed that was the plan.
The construction work at the center was done by C&A Construction. The company was able to begin and finish the renovations and electrical upgrade in one week during the holidays, work that included removing the surface material; building new walls, countertops and cabinets; painting; carpeting; and murals. Several people discounted their work for the project. Some donated their time. "Everybody did 110 percent to do it," said John Ragan, C&A representative. "If one failed, we couldn't have done it."
The finishing touches on the new learning center were completed on Monday, with 14 new Compaq computers installed. Andersen said the renovations appear to have been something that would take six months but were done in much less time.
The center is named after Rippy, who began the center in a small room in 1998. The goal of the center is to teach literacy. It uses a tutoring process in which the student can become the teacher.
From its modest beginnings, the literacy center has grown exponentially, and other programs -- math, Spanish, computer tutoring -- have been added. The center moved to the west wing of the Lehi City Public Library several years ago, and its classes have expanded into conference rooms, a single-family home renovated for math classes and into the neighboring community center.
From literacy center to a reading and learning center, the new remodel features a reading room with bean-bag chairs, a game center and new stations for tutoring. "NBA cares" mousepads, NBA throw rugs and NBA murals were part of the new furnishings.
After the unveiling, NBA players walked into the room, and like an army of loving teachers, sat with the children reading, playing and talking. The Flash Fox played Disney Sorry in one corner of the center while photos of NBA players and kids were being taken in another.
"They have done something wonderful for all of us and we will never be able to repay them," Rippy said.