Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 End of Year Update

As I look back and reflect on 2009, once again, I am amazed and humbled. I’m amazed at the passionate people who participated in and hosted events around the world. I’m humbled to be able to play a small role.

In a year where worry and cutbacks plagued many non-profits, we moved forward, holding 271 Hoops of Hope events and raising enough to fully fund four dormitories, a new medical clinic in Zambia, a water system in Kenya, and two hope centers in Swaziland. Because of thousands of volunteers, we were able to do this with the equivalent of two employees. This allowed us to keep our non-program cost to less than 5% and were able to continue to commit 100% of funds raised at our events to the children we’re helping.

Here is a quick update of the projects Hoops of Hope has been involved with:

  • Johnathan Sim Legacy High School: Now in it’s 2nd year, close to 500 students are receiving a high school education for the first time. Hoops of Hope has funded 4 dormitories to house 210 students of which many are currently sleeping in the classrooms. The first dorm to house 80 girls is open. The second dorm to house 40 boys is under construction. The remaining two dorms will open in 2010.

  • Medical Clinic in Sinazongwe: The clinic has been open for about 9 months and has served many people in the community offering life-saving treatment and counseling. As one of the government leaders put it, the clinic will save an “entire generation” of Zambian children.

  • Medical Clinic in Chilala: The clinic in Chilala has been fully funded and is currently under construction due to open mid 2010.

  • Water Project in Kenya: Hoops of Hope partnered with LCBC in Pennsylvania to fund a complete water system in Kenya that is under construction.

  • Hope Centers in Swaziland: These two centers provide a safety net for children orphaned by AIDS. Each center offers education, food, healthcare and life-skills training.

Equally as important as the projects we’re working on, we were able to impact nearly 20,000 young people who participated in a Hoops of Hope marathon. These students were able to realize that they can make a difference no matter what their age.

I’ll share an update on the projects we’re working on for 2010 in a blog to be posted later this week. In the meantime, thank you for being a part of Hoops of Hope.


Director [volunteer]

Friday, December 18, 2009

Need Magazine

I first heard of NEED Magazine a few years ago when they ran an article on Hoops of Hope. I was intrigued by their tag line of "We're not out to save the world but to tell the stories of those who are" and I've been a subscriber and follower since. The following clip aired recently on CNN and it's about how their co-founder ended up helping children while working on a documentary. So Kelly, today, we're telling your story...because you are helping to change the world.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Recent All Stars News

Hope you'll join us at the Hoops of Hope All Stars Tour in 2010!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Blog Winner!

Mark is the lucky winner of Austin’s book – Take Your Best Shot – as well as Guys are Waffles, Girls are Spaghetti by Chad Eastham, Redefining Beautiful by Jenna Lucado, and Word of Promise Next Generation Audio New Testament all from Tommy Nelson. You can follow them at www.twitter.com/tommynelson andwww.facebook.com/tommynelsonkids.

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to comment on the blog. We'll do more give-a-ways in the future!

HOH Team

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Austin's World AIDS Day Blog

It’s amazing to think that today; December 1st marks six years since Hoops of Hope began. My family and I are always humbled to look back at how God has used this simple event. For those of you who don’t know when or why Hoops of Hope started I want to give you a little background.

Hoops of Hope began in the spring of 2004. We had been sponsoring two children through World Vision and received a video in the mail. So we sat down as a family and watched it. I remember just not knowing what to think as the narrator described this little girl named Maggie who had lost everyone in her life except her great-grandmother. What was even sadder though was Maggie lived in Zambia and struggled to find food. And Maggie wasn’t alone. There are over 15 million children who have been left alone because of this disease. Of this 15 million, 12 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.

I remember asking my parents that night what we could do to help. A few weeks later I had a call with a man at World Vision who simply encouraged me to use my favorite sport to make a difference. I decided I would play basketball to help kids like Maggie. The first time I went out to shoot my hoops was December 1st, which is also World AIDS Day. I had friends and family rebounding for me as I shot 2,057 free throws. One for every child orphaned during my school day. Six years ago that happened and that night I told my parents that I wanted to do it again but with a lot more kids.

Since then Hoops of Hope has taken off, and this week, we’ll have over 60 events in 15 countries. We have been able to help build a school for 1,000 kids, build a major water project, two medical clinics, two Hope Centers, four dormitories, donate bicycles, and help to save countless lives. All from shooting some hoops. Nothing fancy. Nothing creative. We just shot some hoops.

But the best thing about Hoops of Hope is still to come. You see, many of the participants are kids and teenagers. And we might not know how this has changed them for a long time. Every once in a while we’ll meet an adult who thinks it’s just kids making a difference. We simply let them know that we have participants ages 4 to 72. This year, we’re going on the Hoops of Hope All Star Tour with a goal of shooting 15 million free throws. One for every child left behind. You can join us by visiting our website and clicking the All Star button.

When I was over in Zambia the chief of the Tonga people told me that God used teenagers in America to change the lives of his teenagers over in Zambia. The chief was challenging his teens to start making a difference. What an awesome thing that is to know that more and more teenagers are seeing that they can change the world. My prayer has always been that kids and teens would realize they can make a difference and they can do it now. You’re never too young to make a difference and you’re never too old to start. As we think about these six years I will continue praying that prayer. That God will stir something inside my generation that we just can’t contain.


Get a signed copy of "Take Your Best Shot"

Each day this week Hoops of Hope is partnering with Tommy Nelson and
giving away a copy of my new book, Take Your Best Shot! On Friday we are
giving away a prize pack full of not only my book but the new books and
live DVD's from my buddies and fellow Revolve speakers Jenna Lucado and
Chad Eastham, who have also been to Africa!!! We are even throwing in a
copy of Word of Promise Next Generation Audio New Testament.

To be entered into this giveaway...

Leave a comment on this blog post...
For extra entries...

Follow Tommy Nelson on Twitter
Follow Hoops of Hope on Twitter
Become a Facebook Fan of Tommy Nelson and Hoops of Hope
Leave a separate comment for each thing you do!

The low-down: ReTweet @TommyNelson's daily giveaways to be entered to
win a copy of Take Your Best Shot, signed by Austin, every day this
week. Comment here to enter the big Friday giveaway - a Prize Pack of
goodies for teens.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tuesday, December 1 - World AIDS Day

Hey everyone - be sure to check the blog tomorrow to find out how you can win a signed copy of Take Your Best Shot!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving From Austin

I love Thanksgiving a lot. I enjoy everything about it. Most importantly I always think about family. And how lucky we are to live in the greatest country in the world. But, while we are so thankful we have to make sure we remember that there are others who don’t have as much.

Today, I was on the World Vision website and I one of the things I noticed was that you could pick any child you wanted. You could go down to the gender, country, even birthday. At first I thought that it was pretty cool that you could do that. But, the truth is that it's very sad. You see there are so many children out there that need to be helped.

I think that when it comes to being thankful it's also a call to action. In the Bible it says, to whom much is given much is required. So as we enter this great season of giving I would also encourage you to give to the least of these. Always keep in mind that we can change the world, one step at a time.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Just wanted to wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving from the Hoops of Hope team. We are so thankful for each one of you. Thank you for your support, volunteer hours and passion to help those less fortunate.


The HOH Team

Friday, November 20, 2009

Chilala Clinic Photos

We just received some updated photos from the clinic we're building with World Vision in Chilala, Zambia. The clinic will open in the Spring 2010 and will have a CD4 count machine, will provide treatment and counseling on HIV/AIDS, TB and other diseases for the community. Additionally, there will be staff housing on site.

Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this project!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Austin talking about All Stars Tour

New video from NBC in Philadelphia where Austin talks about the upcoming All Stars Tour in 2010! Be sure to click on the All Stars button to register!

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/video.

Monday, November 2, 2009

If the World Were a Village of 100 People

Have you ever tried to wrap your mind around some of the statistics about the world that come your way? I do, and it’s quite difficult to comprehend. In my Social Work class, we received a handout showing statistics about various things as if the world consisted of 1000 people. This helped me to gain more of an understanding of some of the realities. I found a video that shows statistics if the world consisted of only 100 people. I thought I’d share it with you. It's very eye opening and shows how much of the world struggles with just having basic needs. The good news is, we can hopefully lower some of these statistics by doing our part in making a difference for the world.

::If the world were a village of 100 people::

43 (nearly half) live without basic sanitation
18 live without an improved water source
6 people own 59% of the entire wealth of the community
are hungry or malnourished
can’t read
7 are educated at a secondary level
1 adult has
18 struggle to live on $1 per day or less
53 struggle to live on $2 per day or less
If you have a roof over your head with a bed, closet, and fridge,
you are richer than 75% of the entire world population


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ancient Civilization

Recently my family got to visit the Tonto National Monument here in Arizona. We had been camping at the base of the mountains, on Lake Roosevelt and decided since we were only a mile away from the national park that we’d drive over to check it out. Amazingly, this “monument” turned out to be ruins left by Native Americans who first settled the area.

The hike to the ruins was pretty steep, but paved the whole way. So, the younger kids had no problem traversing the trail. The more ‘mature’ among us quickly realized how out of shape we really are! As we hiked, I found myself wondering why in the world this ancient civilization decided to build their city almost at the top of a very steep mountain. Of course, there are the obvious reasons like safety, but what struck me was that here we were on this paved trail and all they had was rough desert at the time they built their domain.

It taught us a lot about who these people that lived so long ago were. They were obviously not afraid of hard work, given that they had to make that trek over and over again while carrying building materials to build their homes. They must have been quite resourceful, given that all these years later huge portions of the walls they built still stood, and, as my 9 year old son pointed out, they didn’t have very supportive underwear, because they had some garments on display at the museum at the base of the hill and seriously, they did NOT look comfortable!

Knowing these few things about the people who lived so long ago, got me thinking about what future generations might say about us. My hope would be that they’d talk about how much we cared for each other, how much we gave of ourselves for each other, and how much we worked to help heal the hurts of our generation. Unfortunately, if all they have to go on are old news reports then that might not be the impression they’re left with. However, if they happen to dig deeper and find things like Hoops of Hope, and other organizations working to make a difference, then I believe they will get that picture. They’ll see that there was a generation of people who saw hurting, and vowed to help do something about it. They’ll see that kids stood up and decided to think beyond themselves to make a difference. They’ll see adults who’s hearts were so heavy by the hurting they saw that they would volunteer their time and give of their resources to help. Just through Hoops of Hope alone, generations in Africa have been impacted in a hugely positive way!

The reality of it is that this generation IS making a difference. This world we live in has many problems, but it also has many good people who are taking their best shot and making themselves available to be part of the solution. Hopefully, we are leaving a legacy of giving, helping, and loving so that when we are an “ancient civilization”, those looking back at us will see that legacy above all else. That’s my hope and I believe it will be realized, because I look around and see all of you who are living it, giving of yourselves for people you don’t even know. You’re amazing, and it’s awesome to see!


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Across a distant sea

I imagine you woke up today in a pretty nice bed. You probably took a shower, had breakfast, and went about your daily routine. I did too. In fact, I woke up in a large, warm bed. I took a hot shower, walked into my closet full of clothes and picked out an outfit of my choice. I then applied makeup to my face, dried my hair and straightened it with the necessary appliances. I took a look in the mirror to make sure I looked decent before going out. I went downstairs, ate a piece of toast with peanut butter, then headed out of the house for the day. I got into my car and drove two miles to school. And as I was sitting in my Astronomy class, I began thinking about the many children and adults across a distant sea who had a drastically different morning than I.

Take one person similar to me. In this case, a young old girl in Zambia. This girl probably woke up this morning on a dirt floor squished next to her brothers and sisters. I’m sure she didn’t take a shower. In fact, she probably hasn’t had one in days or weeks. I bet this girl didn’t walk into her closet to pick out a set of clothes, because the only outfit she has is already on her. I’m sure she didn’t apply any makeup or even look in a mirror. Who knows if she has ever even seen a reflection of herself. I’m pretty sure this girl didn’t eat breakfast this morning because there might not be any food available in her household. I can guarantee she didn’t get in a car to drive two miles to school. Instead, she probably walked 20 miles to fetch a bucket of water at sunrise. And I imagine that the rest of her day was spent working outside in the heat and taking care of her siblings, while I enjoyed a bagel, coffee, and some magazines at a bookstore.

I couldn’t stop thinking about these kids today. What’s tragic about this is that there are millions of children around the world who live this way every single day of their life. It’s heartbreaking. But you want to know also what is incredible to me? There are hundreds of children in Zambia who are in class right now studying and gaining knowledge because you have provided a hope and a future for them. Not only are they getting to go to school, but they will soon have a nice place to sleep, in dorms at the school! These kids are now waking up with a joy in their heart because they get the opportunity to attend school to learn so that they can grow up to live a better life. And you know what? These kids aren’t the only ones who will be impacted in Zambia. There are hundreds more who will receive this same blessing if we all keep doing what we have been the last few years. I can’t even believe that as I sit in my Astronomy class, a young girl in Africa gets to sit in her class and have a complete hope for the future. It amazes me how much of an impact kids in blessed nations, like America, have made on kids in developing countries like Africa. Never forget that lives are being impacted and forever changed because of you. Keep it up!


Friday, October 16, 2009

Key Club Hoops of Hope

Check out this video from the Dysart Key Club Hoops of Hope event.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Africa update

Thought I'd share a couple of pictures from our dormitory project at the Jonathan Sim high school. As most of you probably know, when we where there in March, we learned there were tons of children sleeping on the floor in the classrooms because it is too far to walk home each night. So with the help of incredible donors around the world, we were able to raise money to start construction of four dormitories at the school. The girls dorm is finished and you can see the bunks being moved in.The 1st boys dorm is under construction as well
you to everyone who took part in Hoops of Hope so far this year. You've made such a difference.

- Dan

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Lettin' the laundry wait

Do you ever feel like you have so much going on that it's just a bit overwhelming? I know I do! For me, there's getting the kids to and from school, piano practice, chess club, mid-week church events, and whatever else they have happening in a given week. On top of that there's grocery shopping, house cleaning, laundry, finding time to connect with friends, and, oh yea, work! I'm lucky, though, because my work is actually something I LOVE. I get to work with people all around the world who are making a huge difference in the lives of kids orphaned by AIDS, and I get to do it with a team of people I think are absolutely incredible. Honestly, I don't think it gets any better than that!

Right now is the busiest time of year for all of us at Hoops of Hope. Austin is traveling just about every week, speaking all over the country, and World AIDS Awareness Day on December 5th is fast approaching. Some days, things like laundry just have to wait. But, it's o.k. It's o.k. because right now the kids in Africa are what matters most. They're getting the help they so desperately need, and that's more important than always having my favorite pair of jeans clean.

So many people have stepped up to partner with us this year, and it's totally amazing to be a part of it. Between now and December 5th, we have 14 confirmed Hoops of Hope events all around the country. Another 38 events are scheduled for the month of December, and 20 people have already said they're on for hosting an event in 2010! Every single day we are contacted by more people who want to get involved. Wow!!

I just want to say that you all are amazing! The kids you are helping will forever be grateful, and as busy as it is, we at Hoops of Hope wouldn't have it any other way. So, "bring it on!" I say! Keep me busy - let's help some kids together... my laundry can just wait.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Taking a second glance

This past week I had the opportunity to go to Baltimore with the Revolve Tour. As we drove through downtown on our way to our hotel, several homeless people caught my eye. I looked at one of them, and like most people, my first inclination was to turn away. Just turn my head and look away. I wanted to pretend like this person was not even there. Like he didn’t even exist. How many times do we do this? We see a man holding a sign off the freeway, or a child on our TV in need and our first thought is to just look away. Sometimes we think it is best to pretend like they aren’t even there. I wanted to do this too when I saw this man. But I knew the incredible power of a second glance. My heart said to give something to him. And I had the chance but then it was gone. The car resumed its course. I knew the incredible power of a second glance but did I take it? No, and I wish I did.

When we make a difference we are taking a second glance. When we help someone in need, we are taking a second glance. Instead of just saying, “that’s too bad” we are doing something about it. Just doing what we can is enough. Whether it is making a difference for 1 or 100…it's making a difference.

Honestly, that’s how I feel about the girls who attend Revolve. They see a need, kids without school supplies, and the take a second glance. They do something about it. The Revolve Tour girls in Baltimore, and in cities all over the country, are making a difference. They are caring about kids in need and I am so thankful to be apart of that with them.

Taking a second glance, is taking action. So, the next time I see a need, I’m looking twice. How about you? Will you take a second glance today? - austin

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The First Day of Fall

With temps still nearing 100 degrees, here in Arizona it's hard to believe that the fist day of fall was actually yesterday! Where I'm from, fall means lots of red, orange, and yellow leaves on trees, school starting, and that it's time to get out the winter coats because there will soon be frost on the ground (if there hasn't been already). Since moving to Arizona I've come to realize that none of these things really happen here this time of year. School has already been in session for several weeks, the yellowing we see in our yard is actually the lawn needing to be over-seeded (something totally new to me since moving to the desert), and we no longer own any "real" winter coats.

I'm not complaining - at all! I'll take the 95 degrees in September over 9 months of rain and cold any day! But, having lived and visited many different climates, it's interesting to me how different each place can be during the same time of year simply because of where it's located on this Earth. In Zambia this week they'll have high temperatures in the 80's to low 90's with clear skies and probably no rain. Sounds nice! Next month it will warm to their highest temps of the year but still not likely go to above 95 degrees or so. Sounds great to those of us who brave 115 degrees in the middle of our warmest month, doesn't it? Or, does it?

95 degrees with lots of humidity can be pretty sticky, and when most of the population of Zambia lives without things like running water (let alone swimming pools to cool off in), or electricity (don't even mention air conditioning!), it suddenly doesn't sound so great anymore. Then, there's the rainy season. For those with nothing but a thatched roof over their heads, February in Zambia sounds downright miserable. But, there's hope...

With the help of so many of you around the world, Hoops of Hope has been able to build things like medical clinics that have real walls and solid roofs to keep the sun from directly beating down on the hurting people of that part of our world. You've helped build a school so that students can study and keep dry at the same time. Construction has begun on dormitories that will give kids a safe, dry, comfortable place to lay their heads at night. There has been real, tangible progress made there, and it's all because of those of you who cared enough to set aside a few hours out of your year to shoot some hoops. Very cool!

When it's raining like crazy in February, I hope you remember those that you've helped and that it puts a smile on your face. And, when it's as hot as it'll get next month, we can think of the shelter that those kids will have in the new dormitories. There's still much to do, and we don't plan on stopping any time soon (if we can help it), so keep up the good work all of you who partner with us on this journey. We appreciate you more than you'll probably ever know - and more importantly so do thousands of people, and generations to come, in a country many of us might never even get to see.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Do Something Bigger than You

This is a blog I just posted for ThinkMTV. - Austin

Doing something bigger than yourself doesn’t depend on your ability it depends on your availability. That phrase was so true in my life. Because if you were to look at my ability I was definitely not “qualified”. But you see making a difference isn’t about how qualified you are or about how popular you are, it's about how willing you are. And I realized that as my adventure began.

My adventure began six years ago after I watched a video about a girl who had lost her parents to AIDs. I began thinking about it and for a nine year old it was scary. I didn’t know what this thing called AIDs even was. All I knew is that it was leaving kids without their parents. I couldn’t imagine living without my parents and yet 15 million kids had to go through this. If you don’t think that’s a big number, think of it this way - If 15 million kids linked hands and stood in a straight line, they would go from Los Angeles to New York and back again 5½ times!

I knew I had to do something. My ability didn’t make a difference to me. A man from World Vision encouraged me to use my favorite sport to make a difference. So I started a free throw marathon called Hoops of Hope. Over the past six years we have raised of 1.5 million dollars to help children orphaned by AIDs. We have built a school and two health clinics in and AIDs ravaged region of Zambia. 100% of what we raise goes to help these kids.

I learned early on that I was not popular (I’m still not) or good at basketball but that didn’t stop me. And I would encourage you as you read this to know that you, no matter what your skills or age, can make a difference. It's about your availability. It's about how willing you are to make a difference. Making a difference doesn’t have to be some big huge ordeal. In fact, you can make a difference by simply picking up trash, helping at the homeless shelter, recycling. Only you know what your passionate about and only you know whose life is going to be forever changed because of you.

This year I have an amazing opportunity to encourage my generation to do just that. It is my second year with an incredible conference called the Revolve Tour. This all-teen girls event really motivates my generation to get involved in changing lives. We certainly aren’t doing it because of our ability. The girls at the Revolve Tour are passionate about making a difference and they’re doing just that. We’re stuffing backpacks with school supplies, and a warm blanket and we’re going to deliver them to the school in Africa next summer. It is so motivating for me to see 8,000 girls each weekend come together ready to change the world. They care about seeing lives changed. And that is what I would encourage you to do. Whether you’re a teenager like me, a grandparent, or somewhere in between, care. You can make an impact and it can start today.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Perspective Adjustment

My daughter came home from school one day this past week with an itchy, red eye. We’ve never experienced the “joys” of pink eye in our family so I didn’t immediately identify it as that. The next morning, however, it was unmistakable.

Sad that she had to miss school, we made the trek to the doctor’s office. I say “trek” because our doctor is a half hour drive from home. We arrived only to find one available chair in the waiting room. Every other chair was filled with coughing, sneezing, or crying little ones. “Oh great” I thought… just what we need, more germs!

It had been a while since our last visit to the doctor so I had to spend time filling out all kinds of paperwork so that they could update our records. Then, we waited… and waited! Over an hour past our appointment time, we finally got called back to see the doctor. She proceeded to ask me 3 questions, look into my daughter’s eye and then announce “yep, it’s pink eye!" It took a total of 5 minutes! While we waited for the prescription to be written, I found myself feeling extremely frustrated. I mean, I put my day on hold, spent way too much time driving & waiting, only to hear the diagnosis I already knew. What a hassle!

Then, I found myself thinking of the millions of children in Africa who wish they could drive half of an hour to the doctor’s office, wish they could wait for an hour in a comfy chair while watching a Disney movie on T.V., wish they could fill out mounds of paperwork so that a doctor would actually be able to keep “records” for them, and wish they could top off the whole experience with the medicine that would help them get well AND a lollipop on top of that! Wow – what those millions of kids wouldn’t give to have an experience ½ as good as mine that day.

Suddenly, I couldn’t feel frustrated anymore. In fact, I felt rather spoiled. When we left the doctor’s office, I knew we’d be enjoying a nice lunch together and then going home to a warm, clean, beautiful home where the only sickness we have to deal with at the moment is easily treatable and would be gone in a few short days – thanks to a trip to the doctor’s office.

I call moments like that “perspective adjustments”. I’m so blessed to be able to call myself even a small part of Hoops of Hope, knowing that so many people are being helped because so many of you are unwilling to sit by idly while knowing others suffer. Thousands now have access to medical help because of you! Have we helped everyone who needs it? Obviously not. Is there still more that needs to be done? Absolutely! As long as we all keep looking beyond our own circumstances and taking time for more “perspective adjustments” then I believe we can (and will) make a huge difference in the lives of many!


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Update from the Sinazongwe Clinic

We just received some new photos from the clinic in Sinazongwe! In fact, the CD4 count machine was recently installed and the reports from the clinic are incredible. In this picture, you can see the lines waiting to be tested! Thank you for doing something bigger than yourself!

[the following is a letter as written from one of the workers at the clinic]
On interview Joyce Muyanda, female 42 who is a Chairlady for one of the Sinazongwe Support group who was found at the clinic already carrying out educational talks with the clients could not hold her excitement for the machine that had just been installed nearer to be accessed by many sick people. In her words she said, "We are really very happy to have this CD4 machine here at this Laboratory because it has cut on our distance to Maamba hospital (which is 60km away) to have this service. And even if we travelled to Mamba Hospital the results would not be availed immediately, we would be given different dates to go and collect the results. This was so tasking and expensive on us because not everyone could afford transport money to and from Maamba. Moreover I feel this was also contributing on our conditions to getting worse because such longer distance travels to and from Maamba every now and then where we usually move on empty stomachs had a negative bearing on our nutritional status and general conditions. We have lost most of our friends in the same situation because they would not afford travelling to Maamba for the CD4 machine services". She lamented almost tearing out for the joy of how much the CD4 machine would now contribute not only to the communities surrounding Sinazongwe but even other nearby clinics. "It is amazing how God can use even young people to reach out for lives. We remember the time of launching the Laboratory, that young donor we saw really young yet could be used in such great ways. Here it is we thought it would not be a reality that the machine would finally be here", Joyce continued "May the Lord bless such people to bring back life in others who are sick and hopeless.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Labor Day

A couple of days ago was Labor Day here in the U.S. After enjoying an extra long week end I found myself wondering what Labor Day was really all about anyway. For my family it meant an extra day off to get things done around the house, hang out with friends, and BBQ. But what really is Labor Day? I'm sure I could ask my 9 year old - he probably knows. But, for me it's just been too long since learning about it in school so I decided to look it up.

Observed the 1st Monday in September, Labor Day actually originated from Canada. A U.S. labor leader witnessed a "labor festival" while visiting there, and decided to bring the idea back to our country. New York was the first state to observe Labor Day in 1882, in the aftermath of a messy labor strike that ended in death for a number of workers. President Cleveland was all about coming up with ways to bridge the gap between the American worker and the government so he quickly decided to back the idea of a day to celebrate the worker. 

Interestingly, over the years the true meaning of Labor Day has been all but lost. I mean, I knew it had something to do with workers and labor unions, but really how many of us really pay attention to what we are supposedly "celebrating" on the 1st Monday in September? For me it's always been about the last week end of summer and another day to do 'whatever', and honestly, it still is that for me.

After re-learning what it's really all about, I found myself wondering... do they have holidays like Labor Day in Africa? Hmmm... I really don't know, but somehow I seriously doubt it. I am absolutely positive there are workers in Africa who work harder than I can even imagine, yet they don't get a "day off" to just relax and enjoy life. Another reminder of just how blessed we are to live in this nation of prosperity! 

With that in mind, I've chosen the rest of this week to remember the African worker - the farmer trying to provide for his family, the school teacher trying to give children the knowledge they need to live a better life, and the local care giver who gives so sacrificially of her time and energy to help AIDS patients who can't travel the many miles to a clinic for simple treatments that can prolong their lives. These workers are true heros in my book, and I feel incredibly fortunate to play even a small part in helping them. They deserve a 'labor day' - a day off to enjoy whatever they want to enjoy. Sadly, they will likely not get it this side of heaven, but I know there are ways we can all help and Hoops of Hope is incredibly blessed to be a part of some of them.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Milimo Chikwikwi

Several months ago my family sponsored our first child through World Vision. Since I was a teen ager, attending Christian concerts, I had heard about child sponsorship and there have been many times I've wanted to pick one up, but just didn't. When the opportunity arose for us to sponsor a little boy who lives in the area of Zambia where Hoops of Hope does much of our work, we jumped on it! We are all incredibly excited!

The very next day I took my kids to the store to pick out some things to mail to Milimo. Because of package size restrictions we are limited on what we can send, but we had a blast picking out things like colored pencils, small pads of paper, bandanas, and other items that would fit in the envelope. The kids drew pictures, I wrote a note, we included a photo of our family, and then mailed it off.

For several weeks we waited. Waited for some kind of response - something that would connect us to little Milimo Chikwikwi in Twachiyanda, Zambia. A few days ago, it finally came!! A letter with a Zambian stamp! We made ourselves wait until dad got home so that we could all open it together. When we finally got to tear into the envelope, we were beyond excitement! In it was a letter from Milimo, translated and written out by a local volunteer. We got to hear all about his life, his family, and what his interests are. Very cool moment for us!

We were again reminded why we have this "pen pal" in Zambia. His life is in such stark contrast to ours, and yet he had such positive things to say about where he lives, who he lives with, etc. Clearly his joy is not found in what he possesses, or how comfortable his life is. Milimo choses to have joy even amidst living well below what we call poverty in this country. So humbling!

With renewed ferver we all started planning the next package to our new friend, and more importantly we prayed for him. Every night before bed my kids pray for him, throughout the day when we see his sweet face on our refrigerator we pray for him, and in moments of selfishness when I find myself wishing I had "this" or "that", I try to stop and think of Milimo, and I pray for him.

Little Milimo has touched our lives more than he'll probably ever know. We may never get to meet him, but we are blessed to be able to help him through sponsorship. The joy that brings is almost inexplainable, and is so amazing! If you haven't yet sponsored a child, I encourage you to visit the Hoops of Hope website, and chose a child today. Not only will you be helping to change a life around the globe, but you will likely be forever changed as well.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Soccer Kicks 4 Kids

Earlier this month, I heard of a seventh grade girl who started a program called, Soccer Kicks 4 Kids. Check out the following video to hear Alex's amazing story.

Soccer Kicks 4 Kids from Steve Browning on Vimeo.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Why am I Blessed?

One question I’ve always asked God, and myself, since I was a kid is, “Why am I so blessed?” “How come I was born in this wealthy nation with a loving family and numerous possessions, while someone across the world was born in a poor community with no toys, no access to education, and no parents?”

A few months ago, I was knocked off my feet. I had been noticing that I was complaining about what my mom made for dinner or that there was ‘nothing’ in the house to eat (even though there was plenty...it just didn’t sound good to me). Throughout my time of complaining, I kept being reminded that I am abundantly blessed. That little voice inside my head (I call the Holy Spirit) kept coming back and convicting me. Then one night after I took a swig of cold bottled water and as I shut off the kitchen light, using the automatic switch, and as I walked across the tiled floor, up on the carpeted staircase and into my luxurious room with painted walls, a queen sized bed, and an expensive drum set, I got a glimpse of a small mud hut with dirt floors, a curtain for a door, and one single mattress for a bed. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. I felt ashamed for having all this stuff. For having a room bigger than what some people have as a house. I went to bed that night with a heavy heart.

It isn’t fair. I’m no better than a girl my age living across the globe in Africa. So why is it that I can go to the store whenever I want to buy food and miscellaneous stuff while this girl has to walk miles and miles just to get water? (dirty water at that)

I don’t know why. I don’t understand it. I don’t think anybody here on earth does. What I do know is that I can help. I’ve always heard the term I’ve been “blessed to be a blessing.” Maybe I can’t build this girl a big house complete with air conditioning, a large comfortable bed, and a computer. But I can give her what is important. I can give her access to food, clean water, and education. I can send her love all the way from my home in Arizona. I can sacrifice a few movie nights to provide this girl with a future.

Tara K.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's not about the bananna bread!

We have new neighbors. Well, actually they've been here over 2 months so they're not really "new" anymore. Since the day they moved in my kids have been asking if we could go over and welcome them to the neighborhood. Of course, having every intention of doing so, I told them we'd make some banana bread and take it over. The first week end came and I said we should probably let them get settled a bit longer before parading over there. The second week end came and we were too "busy". The third week end came, and so did another excuse. You get the picture. As much as I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, and as much as I really did want the new neighbors to feel welcomed, I continued to allow silly excuses stop me... until two days ago!

My kids asked (for probably the 50th time) if we could go meet the new neighbors. I immediately started in with the excuse that it would be a better thing to do on the week end, and besides, I hadn't made the banana bread yet. My 9 year old's response stunned me! Without missing a beat, he fired back with "Mom, it's not about the banana bread". My 6 year old then followed that up with "yeah, we can just give them friendship". Talk about a one-two punch! I very quickly realized that I was out of excuses and the only thing left to do was to get over there!

So, I set aside whatever else we had going on, made that banana bread, and as soon as my husband got home from work we made the walk to the "new" neighbor's house. What a blessing it turned out to be! They invited us in and told us their story of moving here from another state, then shared that they really don't know anyone in the area. It meant so much to them that we had gone out of our way to come over that the mom even got tears in her eyes.

I left there that evening feeling bad that we hadn't done it sooner, but so glad that we finally had! The whole experience was an incredible reminder that we won't always be asked to do the comfortable or easy thing, but doing it anyway is the right thing, and we might just get surprised with an amazing blessing in the process.

It makes me think of the thousands of people who've participated in Hoops of Hope events around the world. Is shooting hundreds or thousands of free throws easy, or comfortable? No, not for most of us anyway. But, is doing something to help others the right thing to do? Absolutely! So, whether you've shot some free throws to help AIDS orphans in Africa, or ran a marathon to help find a cure for cancer, or even made some banana bread for your neighbor - whatever it is, let me just say thank you! Way to think beyond yourself and act it out to help make a difference in our world! You're an inspiration, and I hope that you've been as blessed as I feel I have been for stepping out and doing it even when it might not have been convenient or easy. Way to go!


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

5 Year old Collect Thousands of Toys

Thought I'd share a story that was sent to us this week. What an inspiring 5 year old girl! She is definitely doing something bigger than herself. Check out the video below

VIDEO - Click Here


Friday, August 21, 2009

The "Wish People"

My family and I had the privilege this past week of taking a meal to a friend who is sick. Our friend greeted us at the door, while holding on to her daddy’s leg to help steady herself. We were so excited to see her even standing, let alone answering the door! We asked her how she was feeling and she didn’t really respond, just put her head against her dad. You see, our friend is only 5 years old, and has an aggressive form of brain cancer. It’s hard for her to walk, talk, or even to smile. I write this because what happened next brings tears to my eyes even as I think of it now. We asked her how her day had gone and she said “The wish people are coming” then gave us a big grin! Her dad quickly explained that the Make A Wish Foundation was sending representatives to their house that very evening and they were going to grant her a wish. It was all that little Kate could talk about. She was so excited!

It got me thinking about the “wish people” and wondering how that all got started. I mean this is a huge organization that has granted over 180 thousand wishes to kids all around the world! How did they begin? What I discovered should not have surprised me. Much like Hoops of Hope, the idea of the Make A Wish Foundation is traced back to one person, who wanted to help one child. A little boy named Chris wanted desperately to become a police officer so a family friend helped him make that dream a reality, just days before he lost his battle to leukemia. That one simple act of kindness helped give a dying child an experience he had always dreamed of, and sparked a movement that we now know as the “wish people”.

One man helping a sick child fulfill a dream. One kid in his back yard with a basketball. These are people who took their best shot, and in doing so have changed lives, and inspired countless others to do the same. It’s simple really, and humbling.

So, what’s your best shot? The answer might be simpler than you think.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

World Humanitarian Day

It seems like there is a "day" set aside for almost everything. Seriously, just take a look at most calendars and you'll find special days throughout the year. But I doubt you'll find a calendar that has "World Humanitarian Day" listed on it, but that's exactly what today, August 19th is recognized as. On December 11, 2008, the United Nations adopted today as World Humanitarian Day to honor those who have lost their lives helping others.

In honor of the day, I decided to look closer at what it really means to be a "Humanitarian". I found a lot of definitions, most of which describe a humanitarian as a person "actively engaged in promoting human welfare". A humanitarian is someone who "has concern for helping to improve the welfare and happiness of people". Wow, this could describe so many people, couldn't it? Think about it...pastors, teachers, police, public servants? All are humanitarians aren't they? Aren't they actively involved in helping to improve the welfare and happiness of people?

Well, this got me thinking about all of the people who selflessly volunteer thousands of hours to help host Hoops of Hope events around the world. There isn't a day that goes by that everyone close to Hoops of Hope isn't completely blown away by the passionate and serving people that work with us. These are people that don't get paid, are often not thanked properly, work tireless hours, all in the name of helping someone who they will probably never meet. What makes someone give like this for nothing in return? If you really want the answer to that question, you're going to need to volunteer somewhere. Why, because everyone of these volunteers can tell you that is better to give than to receive.

So for all of you who have volunteered one or a thousand hours to Hoops of Hope, I want to say "thank you". Thank you for giving of yourself; for doing something bigger than yourself. And, just so you know, we think of you everyday :)

If you want to volunteer, just go to our website and click the volunteer tab. We'd love to have you.


Monday, August 17, 2009

School Days

It's Monday morning and you're up before your alarm goes up. You dress in your favorite new outfit and shoes, have the one healthy breakfast of the year and then pose for a picture with your new backpack and lunchbox in the same spot you have for the past several years. For many, this describes the first day of school.

For far too many though, the first day of school isn't ever a reality. There is no new outfit, shoes, breakfast or new backpack. Some don't even have the opportunity to go to school.

Education however, is the best hope to breaking out of poverty. Education is so highly valued in the Twachiyanda Region of Zambia that children walk miles to attend the Johnathan Sim Legacy School. Many children travel so far that a return trip home isn't even possible, resulting in overnight stays inside the classrooms.

This year, Hoops of Hope has partnered with World Vision to build 4 dormitories for the Johnathan Sim Legacy School. The first dorm, an all girls dorm, is very close to completion, with 3 other dorms to be opened in the near future.

Hoops of Hope is also partnering with the Revolve Tour and World Vision to provide orphan backpacks. For as little as a $25 donation, a child can be provided with a backpack, basic hygiene & school supplies, and a warm blanket.

Giving children an opportunity to stay in school by providing shelter and supplies are two ways Hoops of Hope is helping provide orphan children combat the devastating effects of poverty. Our hope is these children will one day become the leaders of their community and country, resulting in a radical transformation away from poverty, HIV/AIDS, and death.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Take Your Best Shot

I recently read Austin Gutwein’s first book (I’m sure there are more to come), Take Your Best Shot. It tells the story of the creation of Hoops of Hope and Austin’s own heart for Africa from the time he was nine years old. The book is written for teens, so if you’re not a teen, it should be a quick read. It is filled with some great stories that Austin has experienced in the last few years while experiencing parts of the world that most of us know nothing about.

I was encouraged and again impressed by what this nine year old kid was willing to try. No matter how many times I hear the story, I am still so proud of Austin and the man that he is becoming (he’s now 15). You should check this book out, especially if you have kids. We could use a few more Austins in this world.

Here are a few quotes that stood out to me:
“…doing something bigger than yourself truly requires having Someone bigger than yourself inside you!”

“…those kids seeing themselves for the very first time. That’s a little funny isn’t it? Because here in America, we have the exact opposite problem. We are so used to seeing who we are on the outside that we never find out who we are on the inside.”

“Doing something new that’s bigger than yourself doesn’t depend on how old you are. It depends on how available you are.”

Jeremy J.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Simple but life changing

A few months ago, my husband Jeremy and I along with some of our friends went to a huge Christian concert here in Phoenix where we were all challenged by the bands to start living for something beyond ourselves and to begin making a difference in the world. They shared with us the impact that can be made by sponsoring just one child each month, a child in desperate need of hope. We were told that we could be the ones to bring that hope to a child and his family by just giving.

Jeremy and I decided that we wanted to be a part of this, that we wanted to make a difference in someone's life, even if this someone was across the globe, and even if this someone was someone that we might never meet. If our small monthly donation could be enough to change the life of just one person and his family, why wouldn't we want to be a part of that?

Sometimes, I think we feel that the need is just so great that there can't possibly be anything we could do to make a difference. Even if we tried to help, our efforts would be nothing more than just a drop in the bucket, right? Wrong! What Jeremy and I have begun to see through this experience is that, yes, the need is far greater than we can meet on our own, but we can change the world of one person. We can give them the hope that they need, hope that will get them through one day at a time.

This "small thing" for us has been a "huge thing" for a little boy in Tanzania that we like to call Naj.

-Cherie W.

Friday, August 7, 2009

New Friend

I'll admit, I wasn't looking to make any "new friends" yesterday. Call me mean, selfish or whatever, it's the truth. I was on the last leg of a long day of flying. I was tired and just wanted to sit back in my chair, put on my noise-canceling headphones and get some sleep. That was before I read Andy Andrews tweet which read something like "Lord, I am traveling today. Create i me a noticer's heart so I can touch those I encounter along the way".

I decided I would give a quick "heading back to Phoenix?" question to the guy sitting next to me before turning on my headphones. His answer was a simple "yes" but the accent is what caught my attention. It was an unmistakable African accent so I probed. His name is James and he is from Sierra Leone Africa. James' story is all to common, yet all to unknown to most of the world. He fled Sierra Leone in 1992 amidst the civil war which ravaged that country. After spending 5 years in Gambia, the UN cleared the way for James and his children to head to the US. James is 45 years old and just received his associates degree. He is now studying social work at ASU and hopes to return to Sierra Leone one day.

I asked James his impression of the US after being here for the past 12 years. He simply said, "the US is truly the land of opportunity". By opportunity, James went on to say, "you can always find opportunity. Opportunity to eat, opportunity to work, opportunity to receive an education, opportunity to sleep in shelter", etc. "In Sierra Leone, it is simply survival". Each and every day James told me the people wake up with the goal to simply survive. Yet, he said, "the people in Sierra Leone are so happy. They are so close, and just enjoy life".

I also asked James about the increase in Christianity that I've seen across Africa. James told me that he has "never seen anything increase as fast as he has seen Christianity increase. Why, because when all you have is God, and you rely on God for everything, when you lay all of your hope in God, He becomes your everything"

I told James that I was going to write a few paragraphs from our talk in this blog. He asked me for the website and when I gave it to him, he was shocked. He knows of Hoops of Hope, knows of Austin and follows the difference all of you are making for the people of Africa. He said what encouragement all of you are to his people and wanted me to say thank you to you. So on behalf of my new friend, James, thank you for being a part of Hoops of Hope. And thank you Andy for encouraging me to put down my headphones and look outside my world.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hoops of Hope in Guideposts Magazine

At age 9, Austin Gutwein knew he wanted to help orphans living halfway across the world.
So he did something about it.
In 2004, the Mesa, Arizona, resident had been touched by a video telling the story of African kids orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Despite his young age, he organized a fundraiser—similar to a walkathon—in which he shot basketball free throws to earn $3,000 for the World Vision charity.
After this early success, Gutwein set his sights even higher. The young basketball fan organized a free throw competition called Hoops of Hope, in which anyone can take part, regardless of ability.
Each year, schools across the country organize Hoops of Hope free-throw marathons which raise money for projects across Africa. To date, more than $800,000 has been raised to build schools, medical clinics, and orphan centers, as well as providing bicycles and mosquito nets.
Austin, now 14, told CBS News that watching other children get excited about helping others through Hoops of Hope has been an inspiration.
"It's just awesome to see kids get so motivated about shooting hoops," he said. "If given the opportunity, kids will blow you away."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Are you doing something that's bigger than yourself?

Good morning from the dry heat of Arizona! I’ve received tons of stories on how people are doing something bigger than themselves. Keep em’ coming! But I’ve also received questions on how just one person can do something to change the world. This earth is so big and you’re just one person, but you can make a difference. Here’s a story I share in my new book: On December 19, 2007, in upstate Washington a customer decided that she didn’t want to pay for her own drink only, but also for the car behind her, to wish the next person a Merry Christmas. The driver of the car behind her was shocked by the gesture and then he paid for the car behind him. And this went on for 1,112 cars! Seriously!

You can make a difference any minute, any hour, any day. Start small and dream big. Mother Teresa said: “If you can’t feed 100 people, then feed just one.” Do something bigger than yourself today, then go to Facebook and share your story. This week, we’re choosing one story and giving that world-changer a free t-shirt. See you on Facebook!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Thoughts on poverty

"I'm convinced that God did not mess up and make too many people and not enough stuff. Poverty was not created by God but by you and me, because we have not learned to love our neighbors as ourselves."-Shane Claiborne

This quote makes me stop dead in my tracks and really think. I've never thought of myself as being a contributor to poverty before, but what if this is true? How does the above statement alter my own reality? I recently finished reading Austin Gutwein's book entitled "Take Your Best Shot", to be released September 15, 2009. In the book, he shares the story of Hoops of Hope and how it all began. I couldn't help but walk away from that read completely inspired to be part of the change, not just through Hoops of Hope but to be a world changer to a world in great need. I was forced to ask myself the question, 'Am I living for myself or for something much greater?'. Have I learned to love others as I love myself? And if I have, how is it changing the world around me?

When you see someone in need, what do you do about it? When you're introduced to a cause that compels you, do you join forces with those that are making a difference in this world or do you weigh the cost? Things to think about...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Take Your Best Shot

"If you think making a difference is going to be any easier when you're an adult, you're mistaken. Doing something new that's bigger than yourself doesn't depend on how old you are. It depends on how available you are. If you choose to be available, God will work through you even if you are young, and even if you are just a 'regular person'."

Today's blog contains an excerpt from Austin's new book Take Your Best Shot which will be released September 15th from Thomas Nelson. To pre-order the book, click here

Friday, July 17, 2009

Taking my best shot

Wow! I've never written so much in my life, but the new book is finished and available for pre-ordering. It's called "Take Your Best Shot" and I'm so excited to be able to share the story of Hoops of Hope and the children of Africa with you. I was able to write it with an amazing writer named Todd Hillard. Just click here if you would like to order it.

What excites me even more though, is being able to hear from you. Being able to hear what you're doing, inspires me a ton. Every day I receive emails from friends across the world who are using their passions, their talents, their unique God-given abilities to help change the world. It's amazing how something so small can turn into something big. You just have to do something! In fact, something as simple as smiling can make the day for someone. Share your stories with others by visiting the Hoops of Hope Facebook Page. You never know...you're story could help inspire someone else to change the world.

See you on Facebook!


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How are you going to change the world?

I recently came across a blog that asked their readers this question, "How are you going to change the world?" They had anyone and everyone take a photo of themselves holding a piece of paper with a statement on how they are going to change the world. It was so inspiring to me to see people from all across the universe show how they are going to make a difference. There were responses like, "Love each one" "Smile More" "Stop Human Trafficking" "Designing and creating clothing that alleviates poverty" and "Be joyful."

I want to ask you, "How are you going to change the world?" As one small individual in this massive world, what are you going to do? Sounds intimidating... one individual in a large world. Don't be discouraged. Because what you do plus what someone else does plus another will add up to make a MASSIVE impact. We can't do everything, but we can all do something. And each little bit helps.

My response would be, "Love with no exceptions" That means that no matter what race, economic status, or personality type someone is, I will choose to love them. No matter what things they've done, I must love. No matter how dorky they are or how arrogant, I will love. There should be no exceptions in love.

So we ask you, "How are you going to change the world?" We'd love to hear your ideas so please reply to this post and begin changing the world.

(This idea came from the I-Heart blog. To see some of the photos from their post, click here)

Tara K.

Monday, July 13, 2009

They never even see what they look like

The first time my dad and I went to Africa, we would bounce down these endlessly long dusty roads in trucks. Every time we would stop for water or fuel, tons of kids would gather around to figure out who the strangers were. I wasn't just a stranger-to them, with my super fair skin, red hair, and freckles, I was just plain strange! I was as different to them as Africa was to me. For fun, my dad would take his camera and snap a picture of the kids and then turn the camera around so they could see themselves. Click. Click. Click. These kids loved it. Pretty soon there would be a big line of kids waiting to get their picture taken. What was the big deal about this?! One of the World Vision workers told us that most of the kids had never seen what they look like.

-Austin Gutwein

Today's blog contains an excerpt from Chapter 3 of Austin's new book Take Your Best Shot which will be released September 15th from Thomas Nelson. To pre-order the book, click here

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bumps for OCC

We came across an article about a 12 year old girl from Florida who was so inspired by Austin and the Hoops of Hope story that she decided to set up her very own charity volleyball tournament, Bumps for OCC, to help kids have a better Christmas this year. We are so proud of her and would like to share this excellent article that sheds light on her story.

Please take a moment to read the article here.

Thanks Torii for stepping up to make a difference for others in this world. Good luck and have fun at your tournament!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The stuff that expires

It's time to quit buying. No, I don't mean we have to quit buying things, but we need to stop buying into the idea that things that expire are more important than the things that do not expire. Don't let that idea pass you by. It's seriously important because, to be honest, the stuff that expires doesn't satisfy anyway. I mean, do things ever really make you feel good in the long run? No, they don't. Most of the time they just fuel your hunger for more-a better cell phone, more shoes, the latest gaming system...it never ends.

-Austin Gutwein

Today's blog contains an excerpt from Chapter 2 of Austin's new book Take Your Best Shot which will be released September 15th from Thomas Nelson. To pre-order the book, click here

Monday, July 6, 2009

I'm happy because I'm still alive

I received an email from my sponsor child, Naomi, this past week and was heartbroken by some of the things she wrote. One of the first statements she said after her greeting was, "I am very happy because I am still alive." The heart of a young girl in Kenya: "I'm happy to still be alive." I imagine she wakes up every single morning with this grateful attitude, but I can't imagine the circumstances that bring her to say this phrase. It breaks my heart to think of the way she lives, yet I'm almost jealous of it.

The thing is, she truly IS happy. She is so grateful for the life she's been given. Though she doesn't have an ipod, a queen sized bed, or a shopping mall down the road, she is utterly happy and grateful. She finds joy in her friendships, her school, and the fact that she woke up this morning to enjoy another day. Naomi's letter humbled me in many ways. She has taught me that I should be grateful for being able to open my eyes each morning and live a new day. Sometimes I wish I didn't have so many material things, because I know it distracts me. Our culture tells us that we must have more to be happy. Although, what I've learned from traveling to Kenya and seeing the lives of people there, is that you can have less and even be happier than the richest man in America.

Tara K.

Friday, July 3, 2009


I couldn't stop staring at the TV screen. The story was really scaring me, and the little girl...it was awful. She was in a place that was completely foreign to me. I had never seen anything like it. The landscape was beautiful, but everything else just seemed horrible. My dad had just put a DVD into the player. It was only four minutes long, but they were four minutes of the most powerful images I had ever seen, and it was the most powerful story I had ever heard. Pictures of the little girl and her life flooded our family room, like Africa was pulled right into our house through the television. I could see it. I could almost touch it. I could definitely feel it. Minute by minute, my life was being changed forever.

The little girl's name was Maggie. She and I were both nine years old when we met through the TV screen, but she had already experienced a lifetime of tragedy. She lives in Zambia, and she had lost the most important people in her life- her mother, her father, her aunts and uncles, her grandparents... even her little brother. They had all died of AIDS.

Today's blog contains an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Austin's new book Take Your Best Shot which will be released September 15th from Thomas Nelson. To pre-order the book, click here

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Soul Generated by Love

"Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.... You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."

-- Martin Luther King, Jr

This quote really hits home for me. Sometimes I think, well I just need to do "this" first, then I can help others. I need to go to school and grow up first, then I can do something for someone else. I think we all have these thoughts. But, forget waiting. The time is now. Whatever age, race, or gender you are, you can do.....something. Go out and serve someone and see what happens. Serve them with your whole heart. Give them all you have and see how their world and your world changes. Remember, don't wait. The time is NOW. You don't need to be smart, rich, old, or outgoing to serve. All you need is love. A heart that desires to make a change. A heart that longs to do something bigger than themselves. Even the most inadequate, young, and quiet person can make a difference. Trust me. Don't let anything hold you back. Go out and serve with a heart full of love.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Take Your Best Shot

The world is in great need, and something has to be done. So ask yourself two important questions: Do I want to be a part of the solution? And am I ready to take my best shot? (If you can't answer "yes" to those questions right now, that's okay; keep reading.) We know that we are the ones who can and should be doing something bigger than ourselves, and we know that these things can and should be done now. But that still leaves one bigger question: How? How do we do this?

That is why I want to share my story. There's a pattern that I've seen in my own life and in the lives of those around me who are becoming world-changers. The group grows every time someone decides to help another person, but it doesn't start outside. It starts inside. Inside the heart, inside the mind, inside the soul. It's an inner journey that changes the outward life.

Today's blog contains an excerpt from Austin's new book Take Your Best Shot which will be released September 15th from Thomas Nelson. To pre-order the book, click here

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Zambia: March 2009

Austin and a team from Hoops of Hope and World Vision got the opportunity to visit Zambia where the new medical clinic was dedicated. Here are some stories from the trip-

Words don't even describe it. Today we got to visit with a patient from the medical clinc in Zambia. Her name was Media and was 27 years old. She had AIDs and her 3 month baby also had it. They were both on ARVs. Media explained how the clinic would allow her to get her required check up. She said that before the clinic was built, she would have to take a ride to a nearby town to get the check up. But it would cost her 40,000 kawatcha which is about $8. She said one time she only had 20,000 so she was stuck for a whole day. Now because of the clinic, she would be able to walk a short distance to get treatment. That is so cool to hear. It was such a joy to see this woman so happy because she could now just walk to get help.

Next, we traveled to an OVC kids house. The family was a widow and her three kids.

The mom had no real source of income. She would pull weeds when she could. That only paid 10,000 kawatcha which is $2. The family lived on $2 for a month. That's all they would get. By this time, the family had not eaten in 2 days. Wow, that was real poverty. The kids had their only clothes on. But, the joy they had through their pain was incredible. They were happy even though they literally had nothing. We gave them a soccer ball and then headed back. The kids were incredibly happy. It was so cool. Being back at the lodge tonight and hearing similar stories from the rest of the team was inspiring. Everyone came back different. I got my speech done for the clinic dedication. It isn't much of a speech to do justice of what God has done here. I cannot wait for tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Waiting for this day for 7 years

Austin got the opportunity to meet his sponsor child of 7 years in Uganda this past March. Here are his thoughts of first meeting the boy he'll never forget:

Very few people ever get to meet their sponsor child and as a matter of fact not many even get the chance to sponsor one. Yesterday was a day beyond words. I know that for 7 years I have dreamed of that day. A day when I got to touch the hands of someone I knew but had never seen. Driving that morning was very exciting. Being there in Uganda but, never knowing when I would get to actually meet Ignatious. My heart was pounding with joy as we left the hotel in the morning. We made about an hour drive to the ADP office. Everyone slept in the car. Everyone but me. I could not. I described it as a little kid on Christmas Eve just waiting till the morning. What was on that path would change our family's life forever. We drove maybe about another hour down a bumpy dirt road. We thought that we were going to go to Ignatious' house first but when we stopped the van we could tell it wasn't his house. I got out and greeted a little boy and asked him if he was Ignatious. He looked at me funny and then ran off.

A girl came out in a dress. She greeted us. Then we got it. The girl was Brittany's (my sister) sponsor child. We talked and they exchanged gifts. I will never forget how shy Britt and Scovia (her sponsor child) were. They seemed to just hug each other, a lot. Brittany just wore a huge smile and you could tell both were extremely happy.

After visiting a school and playing soccer with the kids, we drove back onto the dirt road. The very first house we pulled into there stood the person I had waited for 7 years to meet. Ignatious. He was dressed in a suit and on top of the suit was the traditional tribal clothing. His dad first walked to me and said, "you must be Austin?" We were all shocked at his English. Next I turned and squeezed Ignatious. We were both overwhelmed with joy. Then we met his mom, sister, and grandma. We went inside and talked forever. Using a translator, I told Ignatious and his family about when I first sponsored him.

Then I told them about Hoops of Hope and how I think it was because of Ignatious. They all were pretty excited. We asked the dad how he knew me. Ignatious pulled out a letter and a picture of a boy with a ton of freckles. The picture was of me was from when I was seven. It was crazy that they had kept it for so long. Then Ignatious gave me a letter he had written to me. I cried as I read it aloud. Next we proceeded to exchange gifts. I gave him clothing, a soccer ball, and a blanket. He got so happy. Then he gave me a handmade soccer ball, homemade water jugs, homemade purses and lots of fruit! We then went outside and tried what was called a jackfruit. They don't have that back home. It was sweet and chewy almost like a mango. It was really good though. Then they had me try a passion fruit. That was not my favorite at all. It was just like slimy seeds. Fortunately I did not have to try the banana. Then we played soccer forever! We also gave him a Frisbee and taught him how to play. His dad talked a lot about sponsorship and how it had moved them into this house and bought pigs and chickens. I asked Ignatious if I could help him get water. We walked and got some. As we walked kids would point and laugh. I asked him why and he said, "Most kids never get to meet their sponsor so they are laughing because they are so happy for me." That was so sweet.

As we pumped the water I would never forget how big the smiles he would get from me being there. After a little more Frisbee and soccer it was time to say goodbye. It was hard to say goodbye, but it was so cool just to be able to spend a day with him. I will never forget him. Most people don't get that chance, but it was and will always be the best day of my life.