Pickens' donation to help create special needs preschool

Monday, November 6th 2006, 6:13 pm
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) When his daughter Mya was born, Oklahoma State director of football operations Jimmy Gonzales' life was changed forever. Now he wants her impact to help others, too.

With the help of a $425,000 donation from alumnus Boone Pickens, The Mya Gonzales Foundation plans to build a preschool for special needs children at Oklahoma State. The foundation was created by Gonzales and his wife after Mya was born last July with Down syndrome.

``I guess I thought I was here for football. I always thought I was,'' Gonzales said Monday in announcing Pickens' donation. ``I've learned at a very late age ... that I was brought here for a different reason and the main thing was to bring this school.''

Working with Oklahoma State's College of Human Environmental Sciences, the foundation plans to build The RISE School of Stillwater, modeled after similar preschools around the country. The first RISE School was built in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with help from former Alabama coach Gene Stallings. The Stillwater school will be the seventh of its kind.

``Mr. Pickens is getting us off on a great start,'' Gonzales said, with his daughter smiling and waving in her mother's arms nearby. ``We've got a long ways to go, but this is allowing us to really move forward and accelerate.''

Gonzales said the foundation plans to meet with lawmakers at the state Capitol next week to seek a special appropriation to help with the school's startup. After that, the foundation will seek annual funding from the state.

He also said that Pickens agreed to donate another $425,000 if the foundation is able to raise enough funds to match his original gift.

``Anyone who has ever met Jimmy Gonzales and his family knows right off how extraordinary they are,'' Pickens said in a statement released by the university. ``We are pleased to join with Jimmy and Oklahoma State University to help establish a RISE school of Stillwater and a focused teaching program to equip students with the knowledge and abilities they need to become capable teachers of special needs children.''

Gonzales said plans call for the school to start with one or two classrooms of about a dozen children apiece and then expand. The Alabama school has six classrooms.

``I think once we get the ball rolling, people are going to take note that this is a good deal,'' Gonzales said. ``And it's a great deal because it's helping a lot of kids and helping a lot of families, and it's going to assist our students. I think it's going to be a tremendous plus for Oklahoma State.''

Pickens' gift is the latest in a series of donations to the university, including an NCAA record $165,000,000 in January to jumpstart construction on an athletic village that will include new facilities for several sports and complete construction on the football stadium that bears his name.

He has also given millions of dollars to academics, and the university's school of geology is named after him.

``It doesn't surprise me that Mr. Pickens wanted to do what he wanted to do,'' Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy said. ``He's into things like that. He gives so much money away to charities. I'm sure he feels like this is a very good cause. He's contributing not only to young people but to the university.''