By Gavin Menu
For the last 27 summers, Mark Crandall has run his East Hampton Sports Camp at the Sportime complex in Amagansett. Children attending the camp — a mix of locals, summer residents and visitors from New York City and beyond — fill their days with swimming, tennis, farming, art, soccer, baseball, afternoons at the beach and so much more.
There are also quieter moments set aside for “circle time,” which is when Crandall’s other, more worldly, pursuits come into play.
Thousands of miles away from Long Island — in what could be another world — Crandall has built youth communities around the game of basketball for nearly the same amount of time as he’s run his summer camp in Amagansett.
Crandall is also the founder and executive director of Hoops 4 Hope, which, on the surface, gathers sneakers, basketballs and jerseys to ship to youth in Zimbabwe and South Africa. The organization’s overall mission, however, goes beyond supplying gear and fixing up basketball courts. Using the game as a catalyst for social change, Hoops 4 Hope teaches life skills, resiliency, leadership and self-esteem building, and also provides opportunities for education and discussion of crucial issues that affect the lives of young people.
“We’re not just a camp, we’re a year-round after-school program with 60-plus schools in Zimbabwe alone,” Crandall said this week while discussing his current drive to collect and ship 2,000 pairs of gently used sneakers and hundreds of basketballs and jerseys that will go from the East End by truck to New Jersey, by ship from New Jersey to South Africa, and from South Africa to Zimbabwe by train.
The fundraising goal is roughly $24,000 and Hoops 4 Hope this year has partnered with the local fundraising organization goodcircle, which works with local businesses and the private sector to raise funds for a variety of non-profit organizations. Two local businesses — Twin Forks Moving & Storage and Rosehip Partners — are playing critical roles in the current campaign, according to Crandall, to help fund and operate the shipping of donations overseas.
“Our job we believe is to be able to give hope to young people for a better tomorrow, if there is a better tomorrow at all, but you know we have to be able to keep the hope alive,” Ngoni Mukukula, a Hoops 4 Hope director in Zimbabwe said in a promotional video at goodcircle’s online funding site, goodcircle.org/project/hoops-4-hope.
“To see young people coming out here like they are doing now to the playground…I think this is where you begin to see our work begin to take shape. To be able to give them that moment of joy and pride and just to feel like they are on top of the world.”
Crandall said his organization is also raising funds for vehicle parts for the former East Hampton school bus that was shipped to Zimbabwe in 2012 for a new life on Zimbabwe streets. The bus transports kids and coaches to games and life-skills programs. After five years on the road there, the vehicle needs crucial parts to keep chugging along.
“We have sent six shipments over to Zimbabwe and South Africa, but it tends to be one of the more difficult projects we do,” Crandall said. “We’ve held off the last four years, but now that we have a real backbone of support with goodcircle, we started the campaign again.
“The actual equipment we’re sending is so valuable,” he continued. “It’s really the incentive and motivation to keep them safe. Some kids have sneakers and some kids don’t, but they make you feel like you can run faster and jump higher, so they’re really valued. The uniform is like a suit of armor and it really showcases your team. We’re getting them now from all over the country.”
Hoops 4 Hope in January locked in a critical partnership with an organization called Higher Life Foundation, which is based in Zimbabwe and has pledged $100,000 per year in support, doubling Hoops 4 Hopes’ annual operating budget. Crandall, for one, has seen firsthand what that kind of funding can do for the children in Africa who are touched by his group’s efforts.
“During my high school back then all of these things were going wrong. In Zimbabwe, we were in trouble, our economy was kind of going down,” one Hoops 4 Hope participant, Norest Shenje, said in the online video. “The industry was closing down. So for me this was like a second home. Seeing that I didn’t have a job I could always come here and play basketball.”