MEET: Mark Crandall, Cofounder Hoops 4 Hope

At the fresh age of fifteen, Mark Crandall made his journey across the Atlantic Ocean to Zimbabwe, where he spent his junior year of high school as an exchange student. Since then, Mark has worked across the globe, played semi-professional basketball in Zimbabwe and South Africa, as well as founded a sports camp in Long Island, New York.  His (arguably) most profound impact however has come through his cofounding of Hoops 4 Hope (H4H), which is “helping African communities help themselves,” by educating and mentoring youth through the medium of sport, and friendly competition. MISSION.tv had the chance to speak with Mark about H4H and the inspiring work the organization is doing in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

What is the mission statement of Hoops 4 Hope? How did the idea originally come about?

H4H provides empowering sports programs, delivering life skills youth need to survive and thrive in communities struggling with poverty, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, violence, crime, substance abuse, and gender inequality.

Hoops 4 Hope was started by three individuals including myself, all who know personally the role of sport in changing our own lives. I first came to live in Zimbabwe in 1984, leaving my home in NY as a Rotary exchange student when I was 15 for a year of high school. After returning to the US, studying sociology at university, and starting a summer day camp in NY, I returned to Zimbabwe a decade after to start a summer camp there.  It was 1994, a year of major change in South Africa, with Nelson Mandela being elected their first president, marking the end of apartheid.

That year in Zimbabwe I met Ngoni Mukukula, and in our first clinic together we coached 75 teachers who had never touched a basketball before, but it didn’t really seem to matter. I traveled by car to Cape Town, South Africa where I met a former pro player Kita Matungulu on the courts of a crime-plagued community. We were there to help a coach who was a former gangster himself, devoted to helping kids not follow in his footsteps.  We all recognized the dire need for organized sports, and the opportunity to do much more.

What is the problem Hoops4Hope is solving?

The diversity of social challenges in the communities H4H serves are vast, with the children being the most vulnerable and at risk. The long-term nature and holistic approach of H4H aims to give our participants and coaches the tools needed to achieve success on and off the court, instead of putting a band aid on any single issue.

Utilizing the inherent fun and competitive nature of sport, we are creating the best practice, lowest cost programs that give children safe places to play, be around real role models, and use this opportunity to discuss all the challenges they face every day. By tackling many of the UN Millennium Goals, we are an integral part of children’s lives and their futures, specifically addressing HIV prevention, gender equality, conflict resolution, leadership, healthy values, children’s rights and their future employability and education. 

Can you describe the life of the average South African or Zimbabwean kid your program helps?

H4H operates under some of the most challenging conditions possible. In Zimbabwe our kids and organization have endured the times when the country had inflation rates of over 200 million percent! Our H4H Center in Crossroads is a City of Cape Town facility had no programs until we arrived. We now have over 100 kids a day playing at the center, while we run basketball and soccer programs in 40 schools in the neighboring townships. This community has one of the highest crime rates in South Africa, resulting in our coaches being robbed on the way home, staff locked inside an office during the day to work on their computers, but none of this stopping our hard working team from doing what we do best.

Over the course of the organizations existence, how have your goals, mission, and method of work evolved over time?

Over the last 18 years, we have learned so much that has helped to shape the organization’s goals and focus. But our underlying simple model of providing fun recreational outlets for kids, community ownership and a commitment to help build young leaders has not.  

Success at H4H is based on creating healthy foundations for young people, along with providing the information and tools they need to better tackle the challenges they face every day, carrying them through to adulthood.  We witness the impact and power of our participants and youth coaches, as well as the indirect effect they have on their family, friends and the community as a whole.  

The training of our All Star and MVP community coaches in communication skills, computers, time management and mentorship aims to increase their chance of employability, expand their network and access to a job or further education.  As our coaches gain self-esteem and knowledge, they pass on these vital lessons to the young ones they mentor.

H4H’s simple ‘teach one teach many model’ along with our researched Skills 4 Life curriculum have allowed us to succeed, now reaching 180 schools and shelters in Zimbabwe and South Africa, all run by a local staff and over volunteers.  The Skills 4 Life has also been translated and shared with other organizations trying to achieve similar results for youth struggling in countries like Angola, Rwanda, South Sudan, and even now in the Canadian Arctic.

What exactly do the “teach one, teach many” model and Skills 4 Life curriculum that has enabled so much of Hoops 4 Hope’s success entail?

Our formula has been simple, find the most inspiring, motivated altruistic young adults to lead the way in creating positive change through sport in their communities. With extremely limited resources, we are able to train and pay only one All Star per community, who in turn recruits and manages a team of 10 or more volunteer MVP coaches who in turn help run the teams, leagues and events for as many as 10 schools within walking distance. For example, in Zimbabwe we have 20 All Stars and 200 MVP coaches within 140 schools with H4H programming. In South Africa, H4H has 5 All Stars and 50 MVPs running programs in 40 schools delivering teams, leagues, tournaments, events and outreach. Many H4H youth participants then aspire to become our MVP volunteers or All Star staff, creating a perpetual cycle of positive change that now spans generations.

Everyone at H4H is engaged in helping provide the values, mentorship, vital information and relevant skills needed to survive and thrive. Our Skills 4 Life curriculum is designed to engage critical thinking, communication, and knowledge needed to recognize the risks and consequences of our actions. And through advocacy, we are able to enhance the health of family, friends and others in the community.

Can you tell us the story of the first time you realized Hoops4Hope was making a difference?

The story of the first set of uniforms given to a deserving team in Mabvuku, Zimbabwe set the path of how powerful sport can be in changing the lives of individuals and their communities.

Below is a brief anecdote from former H4H youth Sipho Dube:

“It all started seventeen years ago when Hoops 4 Hope made their first kit donation in Zimbabwe to a kids community team in Mabvuku, Harare. I was thirteen years old and I vividly remember the excitement of putting on an actual basketball uniform that matched with eleven of my teammates. We could not wait for match day to show off our new kits that was a blessing to the whole community and a substitution for our t-shirts.

Over the many years that have passed so many great things have happened in our community through basketball. We have made it to the national league and had a handful of players selected to the national team. Any great organization or team carries something special that identifies them as a unit, ours came in the white and red of the T - Birds. I realized how kids coming from different and diverse backgrounds all compete at the same level regardless of the different challenges they all face in life, wearing the same uniform put us all on the same level. I don’t think Mark Crandall and Jeff Gamble had any idea that they were planting a seed that would have a ripple effect of hope and inspiration in the lives of many young people. That dose of hope in the form of basketball uniforms has kept many playing up to today and giving back to the new generation of basketball players.  As a basketball coach now I look at the faces of young kids when you hand them uniforms for a match and it takes me back to the day I put on my first basketball uniform.” –Sipho Dube, Zimbabwe

Are girls encouraged to do sports in the communities you work with, can you tell us more about this? 

Half of all the youth participants in Hoops 4 Hope programs in South Africa and Zimbabwe are girls. Our Soccer 4 Hope programs are ‘girls only’ programs, helping to empower girls and women coaches, giving them the opportunity to play the sports they love, while addressing the gender inequality and stigma in their societies.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced throughout Hoops 4 Hope’s existence? What have you done to overcome them?

Providing programs free of charge to 10,000 children a year in highly disadvantaged communities in the developing world has been an incredible challenge. Like many grassroots organizations, we struggle to find sustainable and consistent funding streams to enable us to deliver effective programs with realistic budgets to train coaches, for reliable vehicles, court repairs, and salaries.  But our success is testament to how much can be done through hard work, shared values and utilizing the spirit of Ubuntu, an ancient African concept of teamwork and responsibility!

H4H has inspired many game changers around the world and built a growing community of people who want to help themselves and others. We have to be creative and innovative in order to raise funds, promote our valuable work, and attract supporters committed to helping deserving children so far away in Africa.

Our organization has proven to be resilient and resourceful by necessity, running almost entirely pro-bono, but without Bono.  Through generous financial support from foundations, individuals, companies, events and fundraisers held by inspired young social philanthropists, we are able to keep our programs running.  

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ANDREW BRIDGE

@Bridgin_TheGap

Andrew is a global enthusiast with a passion for the road less traveled. As both CATALYST's managing editor, and frequent collaborator with World Hip Hop Market and Nomadic Wax, Andrew has worked with numerous socially conscious artists from around the world in the pursuit of inspiring cultural understanding and exchange through entertainment. This fascination with the world at large has taken him to over 20 countries (so far) through studying, volunteering, and writing about his travels, with no signs of slowing his globetrotting nature down.