Youth with a Vision
America's teenagers are up to something.
According to a 2005 study by the Corporation for National and Community Service, an estimated 15.5 million U.S. teens—55 percent—participate in volunteer activities. The teen volunteering rate is nearly twice the adult rate of 29 percent. Youth volunteer more than 1.3 billion hours of community service each year.
Much of that service takes place in churches raising money for the needy. Youth group fundraising efforts (volleyball marathons, 30-hour fasts) are a staple feature of local newspapers. But once in a while, the efforts of Christian youth are so extraordinary, they make national news.
Christianity Today interviewed two such teens to put some flesh on this trend.
On most basketball teams, if you only hit half of your free throws, you'll be on the bench. Unless you are playing for Hoops of Hope.
Even the team captain—Austin Gutwein, the charity's 14-year-old founder—only hits about 50 percent of his free throws. But all he cares about is that for every free throw he shoots—regardless of how many he makes—another AIDS orphan in Africa is helped.
That's the premise of Hoops of Hope, which Austin founded at age nine after watching a World Vision video about AIDS in Africa. The story focused on a little Zambian girl who had lost her parents to AIDS.
"She was alone, living in a mud hut, huddling under a tarp in the rain," says Austin, who lives with his family—parents Dan and Denise and sister Brittany, 13—in Mesa, Arizona. "It was incredibly sad. I started thinking what life would be like if I lost my parents, and I couldn't imagine that.
"I felt like God was telling me to do something."
2,057 free throws
So Austin started what he calls a "shoot-a-thon." He asks sponsors to pledge money while he shoots a ton of free throws—giving a whole new meaning to the term charity stripe.
Hoops of Hope officially tipped off on World AIDS Day in December 2004, when Austin shot 2,057 free throws—one for each child orphaned during a typical school day (based on the U.N.'s estimate that 6,000 children worldwide are orphaned daily as a result of AIDS).
Austin raised almost $3,000 that first year, and sponsored eight AIDS orphans through World Vision. The relief agency began to spread the word about Hoops of Hope, and people around the world started holding their own events. The charity, continuing its partnership with World Vision, has raised almost $500,000 in four years.
Some of that money was used to build a school in Zambia. Austin was at the grand opening last fall, where village leaders thanked him in front of a crowd of over 1,000.
"I was blown away," Austin says. "This school is going to do a lot for these kids and this village."
In 2007, with more than 5,000 participating worldwide, Hoops of Hope raised over $200,000 to build a medical lab and counseling center in Zambia; Austin plans to visit that project in March.
This year, Hoops of Hope is shooting for enough money to build another clinic in Zambia, with a focus on the prevention of mother-to-child AIDS transmission.
"Prevention is absolutely part of our mission," says Austin. "We want to prevent kids from being orphaned in the first place. We want those who have AIDS to receive treatment for it. And we want them to learn about the love of Christ."
Hoops of Hope has added another partner: the Revolve Tour, an event for teen girls featuring Christian musicians and speakers—including Austin. Thousands are signing up to participate in Hoops of Hope.