A Conversation With Mark Crandall

Mark Crandall on a recent trip to South Africa.

The founder of Hoops 4 Hope, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of young people in disadvantaged areas in Zimbabwe and South Africa, opens up about building community around basketball, his upcoming Hoops 4 Hope Benefit BBQ and the power of Ubuntu.

Hoops 4 Hope was founded in 1984 after you traveled to Zimbabwe as a high school student. What was it about that trip that inspired you?

I first went to Zimbabwe as a Rotary Exchange student for my junior year of high school in 1984. That year in Africa certainly changed my life, being away from my home in Amagansett for the first time. I returned in 1994 to work with kids , sharing what I was already doing at my summer camp here in the Hamptons. The power of sport to do more than I could ever imagine was clear, and Hoops 4 Hope was born.

Hoops 4 Hope has served thousands of children and in 2002 you built a training facility in Zimbabwe. What have been the biggest challenges to overcome while the program has expanded?

We have been serving many of the same disadvantaged communities over the last 23 years. By training local coaches, we are providing real mentors and a purpose these youngsters desperately need. Our MVP and All Star coaches, as we call them, keep kids involved every day by organizing team sports and sharing valuable life skills lessons. However, funding for our free-of-charge programs that reach over 60 schools and shelters is our biggest challenge.

The United Nations has issued reports saying that sports and physical education play an important role in promoting health, development and even peace. What sort of improvements have you seen in the communities you serve?

Every child has the right to be able to play in a safe nurturing environment, and we see the benefits on so many levels. Our goals include building self-esteem to help these young people make good decisions in the face of many of their life challenges. We witness success stories every day as our participants do better in school, grow to become our volunteer coaches or staff, play on national teams, and receive scholarships or employment opportunities.

What does the word “Ubuntu” mean, and how does it embody what Hoops 4 Hope aims to accomplish?

Ubuntu is an ancient African term that means that we are all interconnected, through compassion. Hoops 4 Hope at the heart is about helping people do good for others through sport. Our organization survives because of the many fantastic people who are giving back to their own communities in Africa. Here people donate sneakers and sports equipment and host fundraisers that sustain our valuable programs for these deserving girls and boys.

Some pretty big names in the world of basketball have been involved with Hoops 4 Hope, including Larry Brown and Doc Rivers. How does their name recognition and participation help raise funds and awareness for the program?

The support of these basketball legends and being an NBA Community Partner certainly helps to bring awareness to our cause.  We are excited that our incredible story is now being told in a full length documentary called “Hoops Africa Ubuntu Matters” that has been entered in the Hamptons International Film Festival and will soon be released on iTunes with its inspiring soundtrack. Visit HoopsAfricaFilm.com to check it out.

Next weekend’s fundraiser is not your average Hamptons event and will include an African braai cooked in an outdoor wood-burning oven. What can guests expect for their dining experience?

Our friends at The Feedfeed are curating this amazing African food experience with local purveyors like Amber Waves and the talented chefs from the Mill House Inn. There will be live African music overlooking the beautiful fields of Sagaponack, all in the spirit of Ubuntu for an evening not to be missed.

The Hoops 4 Hope Benefit BBQ is Sunday, August 5, at a private estate in Sagaponack from 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets include cocktails and an African braai (BBQ) showcasing produce from the fields of Amagansett, local seafood, local grass-fed beef from the North Fork and live African music. Visit hoopsafrica.org for tickets and more information.