In 2011, Grand Valley State University student Tyler Kinch was inspired to start a non-profit organization to give underprivileged children opportunities to grow and develop life values that they might not have had otherwise.
Kinch went to a leadership event, sponsored by his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, and got an idea of how to get started.
This is how the Students Providing Opportunities and Recreation Through Sports program came to be.
“It had always been my passion to (start a non-profit) because I always enjoyed putting other people first and helping them,” said Kinch, who is the CEO of the S.P.O.R.T.S. program. “The first thing was getting people on my team to help out, and so I created my board of directors and we started meeting, and slowly but surely we started formulating ideas.”
Kinch has always enjoyed sports and when it came to starting his non-profit he decided to combine the two.
The S.P.O.R.T.S. program is “committed to connecting with underprivileged children in communities both locally and worldwide through outreach programs utilizing the universal language of sports,” according to their website. They “aim to enhance their quality of life by integrating fun, interactive, and character building experiences.”
The group raises money and collects sports equipment to donate to underprivileged schools and churches so that they can start programs of their own. They also run camps in the summer, including a basketball camp in Roseville, Mich. last year, Kinch said.
“(Donating sports equipment) will be an avenue to start creating a relationship with the school,” Kinch said. “We have the equipment, we’ll give it to them, and we’ll go and show our faces so we build a relationship. Then hopefully, in the future when they want to run a camp, they can come to us and know that we’re here.”
Josh Tucker, who keeps track of all incoming equipment and funds, also participates in the program’s events.
“For me, personally, (this is a rewarding experience). Through high school, I was the three-sport athlete. I love sports, sports are my life and I wouldn’t be who I am today without them,” Tucker said. “To work with younger kids who are just starting out and don’t know what they’re going to get out of it, and being a sort of stepping stone in that sense, I think it’s great.”
Both Kinch and Tucker participated in the basketball camp, raising funds to buy the kids refreshments and helping to teach them drills. The group is now in contact with another school on the east side of the state about setting up a basketball camp, Kinch said.
“It was a pretty small camp, but it was cool to start working with it,” Kinch said.
S.P.O.R.T.S. runs on three main values: creating student-athlete to student-athlete relationships, providing an atmosphere for students to discover their values, and developing leadership to encourage the continuation of paying-it-forward, Kinch said.
“So, basically, when you’re a kid playing sports, you always look up to the varsity players,” Kinch said. “We wanted to create that atmosphere and bring students to help them – and I think the connection (is) greater.”
Behind the S.P.O.R.T.S. program are a set of Christian ideals, and the group hopes to inspire kids to decide on their own set of life standards as they get older.
“We want to help use our values to help them find theirs,” Kinch said. “We don’t want to enforce (our values) on them, we just want to create the atmosphere and use what we’ve learned in sports to help them figure out what they want out of life and help them grow.”
The group has been well-received in the local community and, through a local church, is in the process of sending equipment to ministries in Romania and Mexico.
After their basketball camp last summer, the group had a lot of positive feedback from parents, Kinch said.
“A lot of the parents talked about how no matter where you are from, all these kids need this,” Kinch said. “Some parents from the camp and some schools around here talked about how their kids need to get out more, because they’re stuck inside playing games. Some parents are worried about their kids’ safety because they’re working and their kids are home alone or on the streets.”
It doesn’t matter where they come from or what they have offered to them, S.P.O.R.T.S. is a great medium to keep kids active, he said.
Tucker has also had feedback from their fellow fraternities, who participated in their last equipment drive.
“Everyone helped out amazingly,” Tucker said. “We had (fraternity members) coming up to us and saying, ‘That was a great way to combine us all,’ and asking if we were going to have another drive. We’ve had great responses so far.”
These drives give the fraternity members “something they can connect with,” Kinch added.
“To really put your heart into something you have to actually want to do that,” Kinch said. “Sports are something that our fraternity loves to do, and that a lot of people love to do. By being able to put your heart into something that you love, you’ll get a whole lot more out of the service as opposed to just trying to get a certain number of (volunteer) hours.”
For more information about the S.P.O.R.T.S. program, visit their website at www.sportsnonprofit.org.