Bridget Pettis—who has three decades of experience in the WNBA as a player, coach, and executive—recently stepped away from the WNBA to focus on her venture Project Roots AZ. Pettis’ WNBA career began in 1997 when she was selected by the Phoenix Mercury with the seventh overall pick in the WNBA Elite Draft.
She played in the WNBA 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, 2009). Since then, she’s served as the Mercury’s director of basketball operations, an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Sparks, an assistant coach with the Dallas Wings. and most recently, as an assistant coach at the Chicago Sky.
Here, she opens up about her next move—Project Roots AZ.
You recently stepped away from the WNBA—can you explain why?
With everything that is going on in the world I felt like the journey to health was bigger than me. Our health needed to get back in a stable place.
You are now focusing on Project Roots AZ, which you founded. Can you explain what Project Roots AZ is?
Project Roots is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that is in Central and South Phoenix. We focus on ways to educate the community about growing their own food through many educational programs. We support the homeless and others in need by providing food from our local community gardens and other local farmers gardens as well. We know that we can’t do this alone, so we have partnered with farmers who grow with the same integrity that we do and have the same passion to feed those who need access to healthy food without worrying about how to pay for it.
What inspired you to start it?
I started Project Roots thinking about my own family and the health concerns that we have, and I knew I needed to stay on this path and not give as much to basketball.
Why is having a nonprofit like this important to a community?
There are so many nonprofit gardens in this state and for good reason. We have a desire to grow food, teach others how to grow, and give what we can harvest to people who need access to it. Any nonprofit that has those pillars and treats them as goals is beneficial to any community and most certainly the communities who lack access to fresh, healthy food.
What is your day-to-day involvement with the organization?
When I first started Project Roots back in 2019, I was at the gardens all day, every single day. Learning how to grow from my peers and sharing my harvest with those who wanted it. I like to be a part of all of it. I am at some of the farmers’ markets. I enjoy visiting with school administrators to talk about the importance of having a garden in their schools. I love to cook, so when we started our mobile soup kitchen Project Soups that produces free soups for the homeless and local food banks, I kept pretty with that task as well. I like to be a part of it all. But ,I do have an amazing team of people who help me with many of these tasks.
What communities does Project Roots AZ serve?
Right now, we serve the South and Central Phoenix communities, and the East and West Valley as well. We are able to do this through our seasonal produce bag delivery program.
Why is giving back important to you?
I just feel it in my heart to give back and I just try to stay connected to my heart.
You’ve said that you encourage other players to find a project they are passionate about and jump in. Can you explain why?
Because this is a good time to make movement and change in our communities.
What is your long-term vision for Project Roots AZ?
Our long-term goal at this time, which can change, is to partner with other local farmers as we continue to educate and grow healthy and sustainable food.
Do you plan any future involvement with the WNBA? And do you miss it?
Not at this time. No, I do not miss it.
When you’re not working with Project Roots AZ or the WNBA, how do you fill your time?
By spending time with God and my family.
Is sustainability important in your life? If so, how do you incorporate it?
Absolutely. I incorporate it by educating my community on the importance of growing their own food.
Any hopes for 2021?
That we acquire more land and open a produce market. I also hope to obtain delivery trucks for our local produce bag program.
For more information, as well as a list of upcoming Project Roots AZ’s farmers’ markets, visit www.projectrootsaz.org.