By Sara Blau, JTFN Youth Ambassador Council, Teen Philanthropy Leadership Council at the UJA Federation - NY
When I was growing up, I was involved in many sports teams. Tennis, softball, basketball, and soccer, were just a few of my favorites. I loved the feeling of being a part of a team; of feeling like an essential player. I loved working alongside my teammates to reach a common goal. The experience of working together with others who have a similar goal as you is so exhilarating. My years of experience on various teams empowered and inspired me to assume leadership positions, both on and off the field. Sports can have an extraordinarily positive impact on young people’s lives. Having experience on the team, I learned that sports and physical activity is beneficial for both the mental and physical aspects of a person.
According to Physical Activities Guidelines for Americans on the U.S Department of Health and Services website, playing sports is beneficial in a myriad of ways. Being involved in athletics “decreases the rates of obesity in our nation's youth.” This is clearly an important factor, especially in a world where obesity is such a crucial issue. Additionally, “Athletes experience lower rates of diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as improved cardiovascular and pulmonary function.” But health is not the only factor that is improved in child athletes. Studies show that athletes are also more likely to have “higher grade point averages, higher standardized test scores, better attendance, lower dropout rates, and a better chance of going to college.”
Playing on a team allows kids to feel like they are a part of a greater whole. It gives kids a purpose, and something fun to look forward to at the end of their days. After a long school day, filled with classes, tests, and work, I can’t wait for the end of the day when I can run around outside with my friends and get some fresh air. No one likes being cooped up inside of a school for 8 hours, and it’s so beneficial for children to have a break between school and homework.
Despite these advantages, many kids face barriers to participation. I was inspired to start a new way of giving back in this area when I realized that so many children do not have the ability to participate in sports, and missing out on the empowering experience that was formative for me. I knew that if every child had a soccer ball to kick, a bat to swing, or cleats to run in, they too could become leaders in their local sports leagues; they too could benefit from the life skills that playing sports imparts. I knew that I had the power and capability of making a great change in the world. I made it my goal to put sports equipment in the hands of as many children as possible.
Game Changers New York utilizes a multi-step process to achieve its goals. The process is set in motion with collections of donated sports equipment. Donations stream in from collection bins placed at sports facilities, schools, and synagogues all over Long Island, as well as from those who have committed their B’nai mitzvah projects to GCNY. The next step in our process is to inventory and organize equipment, which we do with the help of our 50+ volunteers. We then identify an organization that meets the criteria of a GCNY recipient organization and needs the donation of sports equipment. This includes organizations and programs that help children with disabilities or children who cannot afford sports equipment. Once an organization is identified, the equipment is packaged, and either shipped, picked up from our warehouse or hand delivered. Lastly, GCNY hosts local fundraisers in order to finance our shipping expenses. Since the start of GCNY, this process has become increasingly streamlined, our distribution rate quadrupling since our founding.
I’m grateful for the unique opportunity that I’ve had to seriously strengthen my leadership skills. Through my involvement in various teen philanthropy programs such as Youth Ambassador Council through Jewish Teen Funders Network, and participating for two years in the Center for Youth Philanthropy through UJA Federation-New York, I have learned so much about what it means to give tzedakah, and do gemilut chasidim as a Jewish teen. I have also learnt to delegate effectively, trust my volunteers, and respect the feedback of all participants. In working with our extensive volunteer base, I have had the opportunity to manage projects, which required that I build effective communication and team building skills.
I believe that the work that I’m doing with Game Changers NY is valuable and rewarding for the children that are benefiting from our work. My goal is to continue to distribute equipment to as many children as possible, and to continue to change the game.
Sara Blau is a 2018 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award Recipient. Thus far, her organization Game Changers New York has given over 5,520 pieces of sports equipment worth over $100,000 have been distributed to 15 organizations in three countries, with the help of over 50 volunteers and ten corporate sponsors. Sara has received the Light of the Future Award from UJA-Federation and the Gold Medal for the President’s Volunteer Service Award from President Obama. Additionally, she has accepted a role with the UJA-Federation of New York’s Philanthropic Advisory Council for Teens and is involved in the Jewish Teen Funders Network Youth Ambassador Council.