When Tiffany Long rolled out the school’s portable basketball hoop, her goal was to make a connection with a kid. The special-education aide would shoot hoops with a student, and then they’d start talking.
“Basketball is a good way to kick off a conversation,” said Anthony Roberts, a behavior specialist who worked with Long for about three years at 49th Street Academy in east Vancouver. “We’d take our kids out and shoot hoops and talk about life.”
Now Long’s life, which was cut short by cancer, is being saluted with a new outdoor basketball court at the school. Friends and family members, as well as a cluster of Academy students, helped dedicate it on a rainy Tuesday afternoon — just a bit more than a year after Long died on Nov. 5, 2014. She was 26.
Long was a classroom aide at the Evergreen school district site, which serves special-needs students.
The court was the result of a grass-roots campaign called #TheTiffanyProject.
Did You Know? 49th Street Academy
The 49th Street Academy has two learning areas: one is a therapeutic day school for students with significant mental or physical challenges; the other serves students who are re-engaging in an educational program with the goal of successfully returning to their original school environments.
“It’s not a foundation: It’s strictly a movement to do something nice for someone else,” said David Long, a teacher and coach at Columbia River High School and Tiffany’s father-in-law. Dryden Long and Tiffany Saye were married on Aug. 14, 2012.
“They’d been married a year when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” David Long said. “The survival rate is small. She was young and healthy, no family history.
“She had major surgery, and they thought they got it all, but it came back several months later. It was very aggressive. They gave her six months,” David Long said. “I was so proud of her attitude: ‘You can get busy living, or get busy dying.’
“A lot of people helped her along the way. She was a private person, and was kind of embarrassed,” David Long said. “She was overwhelmed with the kindness.”
Just one example: During her last weeks in hospice, someone scheduled a limousine ride so Tiffany could see a batch of newborn puppies.
“She wished other people could feel this generosity from time to time,” he said.
The project was started by a couple of her friends from Bend, Ore., where Tiffany Saye played basketball and soccer at Mountain View High School.
Yes, Bend and the Evergreen district both have Mountain View highs. The Bend team played Evergreen’s Mountain View Thunder back when Tiffany was in high school, her dad, Gordon Saye, recalled just before the dedication.
At the Academy, “Tiffany was a staff assistant,” Roberts said. “She helped kids through the day, whether it was schoolwork, activities, cooking — any kind of structured activity where kids can feel they achieved something during the day.” She helped them “learn how to be in a community with other kids.”
Some of that was shooting baskets. For some kids, it might have been the highlight of their day.
“As a reward for good behavior, they’d get to shoot hoops,” Dryden Long said.
That meant rolling the school’s battered basket onto the grass or to the parking lot. His wife wasn’t looking for a huge upgrade, Dryden Long said. She just wanted a slab of concrete to provide a solid base for the driveway-style hoop and backboard.
“We knew there was so much red tape involved that the plan was to take care of it ourselves,” Dryden Long said. “It spun out of control.”
In addition to Tiffany’s friends from Bend, some of David Long’s students at Columbia River got involved. They included members of his Chieftain basketball team, as well as DECA students in his marketing class.
The Evergreen school district was a key part of the project, funding the court construction.
“The Academy students needed some outdoor space” for activities, said Sue Steinbrenner, Evergreen’s facilities director. “The district did the project.”
Other participants in The Tiffany Project provided soccer balls, basketballs and extra nets. Clark County Fire District 6 donated bicycle helmets.
But the most widely distributed impact of #TheTiffanyProject will continue to be random acts of kindness.
“One of the early examples was the taping of microwave popcorn to Redbox (movie-rental) kiosks,” said Holly Long, Tiffany’s mother-in-law. It gave Redbox customers a free snack to go with their movie.
After it was posted on social media, she said, “the Redbox corporation noticed and made a donation to the Cancer Society” in the name of #TheTiffanyProject.