Project Roots: Implementing change from the ground up

Bridget Pettis steps away from the WNBA to help the community

By Michelle Talsma Everson, September 2020 issue.

When we’re young, many of us dream about being professional athletes, but of course, we often give up those dreams as we get older in favor of more “practical” careers. For Bridget Pettis though, through hard work and dedication, that childhood dream became a reality.

“One of the things that I can personally say I’m very proud of is that I was able to do what it was that I set out for when I was a young girl and that was to play the game of basketball to my highest potential and I reaped many blessings for following my heart,” Pettis says. “Something that I want to be remembered for is someone who walked my words and did the very best that I could in helping leave my footprint of God’s love in the world.”

Bridget Pettis has three decades of experience in the WNBA as a player, coach and executive, she shares. Her WNBA career began in 1997 when the Phoenix Mercury selected her with the seventh overall pick in the WNBA Elite Draft. She played in the league for eight seasons with the Mercury and Indiana Fever before joining Phoenix’s coaching staff as an assistant in 2006, helping lead the team to two WNBA championships (2007 and 2009). She then served as the Mercury’s director of basketball operations from 2010 to 2013 before joining the Los Angeles Sparks as an assistant coach in 2013. She spent three seasons as an assistant coach with the Dallas Wings (2014 to 2017), and as an assistant coach at the Chicago Sky (2019 to 2020).

Bridget with Troy Albright of True Garden.

She recently made local and national headlines when she stepped away from the WNBA citing, “increasing health concerns for players and social unrest around the country.”

“I asked a lot of questions that not too many people were happy about. I discovered that some medical staff of teams not only believe it’s not safe, but also the women don’t have enough resources as they believe we should, unlike the NBA going into this bubble,” Pettis says. “If the WNBA cannot upgrade the situation even more with safety I feel the WNBA should wait and play the following season.”

Instead of easing back into a peaceful break, Pettis is focusing her energy on her newly launched nonprofit, Project Roots AZ (also known as Project Roots or Project Roots, Inc.).

Project Roots AZ is a 501c3 organization that aims to educate the community on growing their own food through various educational programs, Pettis shares. They also support the homeless by feeding them from their community gardens and mobile kitchen service, supplying hygiene items, clothing, and shelter.

Bridget showing a cauliflower from their garden.

“Project Roots started when I was volunteering and growing food at Agave Farms Community Garden,” she explains. “From there I would grow food and distribute it to the local food bank Cultural Cup, and then from there, it just kept growing. The name Project Roots came to my heart because it’s the direction we have to go to for healing of any problem: the root. So we started digging and planting and growing and implementing change from the ground up.”

“I also took in consideration my family and how we grew up eating,” she continues. “I would sit on the porch and pick fresh beans with my mother, which was a way of eating I was rooted in — eating fresh organic food that was grown seasonally. That’s how we ate instead of fast food or even restaurants, but at home.”

Pettis believes serving others by educating them about growing their own food and aiding the hungry is the pivot that the community — and perhaps professional sports — needs right now.

“I feel the WNBA should use its platform this year in the communities of the teams and the communities where players live,” she says. “I encourage others to find a project they are passionate about and jump in 100 percent. We can play next year.”

“I definitely understand the WNBA is a business, but we need healthy players for this type of business to function properly,” she continues. “We seek to provide and promote a healthier, natural and more sustainable way of living in urban areas where there is a need. This is the right decision for me and others as we move forward during the pandemic.”

Pettis says that Project Roots AZ always needs volunteers to help them plant, weed, and harvest in their two gardens located at Spaces of Opportunity and Agave Farms. Along with volunteering in their gardens, the nonprofit also offers seasonal produce bags, sells garden boxes for home use, makes soup for the homeless, and sells at the Spaces of Opportunities farmers markets.

“Right now I’m focused on Project Roots and working to build up the support of this nonprofit,” she says. “My hope for this mission is to spread through the world, that not only are we doing our part but that we encourage others to go back to the land, and more families to start and continue to grow their own food.”

In addition to the nonprofit’s local ties, Pettis has her sights set on expanding the organization’s roots.

“We are looking to expand to the Gary, Indiana area where my family resides,” she explains. “We are working to build relations within the community and best figure out ways to help build food security in these locations [Phoenix and Gary]. The best way to be a part of what we are doing is getting your hands in the dirt.”

Talking to shoppers at Spaces of Opportunity Farmers Market.

“Project Roots is for the community,” Pettis adds. “All of our programs are supported from donations. We offer CSA  boxes and well as our farmers markets and soup kitchen program, which is all donation-driven. We can do more and we want to do more; and as we grow the more people we can help feed and heal with healthy food.”

To learn more about Project Roots visit projectrootsaz.org and follow them on Facebook @projectrootsaz; Twitter @projectroots1; and Instagram @project_rootsaz.


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