Few things bring together our shared humanity quite like sports and active exercise. That’s why the ancient Greeks put their wars on pause during the Olympics, right?
Fitness has a two-way relationship with charity. On the one hand, there are many people around the world who need a helping hand before they can adopt safe and sustainable active lifestyles. On the other, sports can bring together thousands of people who can then turn their energies into raising money or otherwise benefitting those in need.
So, we split our list along those lines. Below are 20 sports and fitness charities that you may or may not be familiar with, but that are worthy of a look, especially during this holiday season.
The first group of charities work to give people access to sports, fitness and active lifestyles. The second group uses the energies of athletes and spectators to do good for the world.
We happily celebrate both here.
Charities That Raise Money for Sports and Exercise
PeacePlayers International brings together communities, often divided for political or cultural reasons, through basketball, which it describes as “a tool to unite, educate and inspire.”
The video below, about two girls from the Middle East who became friends over basketball, explains what PeacePlayers International does much better than we can:
For 30 years, STRIDE Adaptive Sports has been providing recreation lessons to people with disabilities. Through the contributions of hundreds of volunteer instructors, STRIDE has been able to teach 15 sports at locations across the country, serving more than 1500 families.
Active Heroes reaches out to active service members, veterans and their families to help them heal both physically and mentally through simply being active. Active Heroes has a retreat program it hopes to launch in 2015 that will get veterans and family members out on an extended adventure with the aim of treating stress and PTSD, and preventing potential suicides.
In addition, Active Heroes helps with veterans’ home repairs, offers physical therapy, and has a fund to help veterans in financial need.
Texas real estate investor and baseball lover David Fantin created the Global Sports Foundation because he recognized that the sport he loved had a global following, but many of those fans and players lacked good equipments.
His charity accepts donations of gently used equipment — gloves, bats, helmets, shoes, etc. — so kids in Central America or Ukraine or Brazil can enjoy the full experience of playing baseball.
CAF was founded in 1997 to give people with physical disabilities the same chance as anyone else to participate in competitive athletics or pursue active lifestyles. Since its founding, “CAF has raised more than $47 million dollars, fulfilled 8,200 funding requests by challenged athletes, and inspired thousands around the world,” organizers say.
The Fresh Air Fund traces its history back to 1877. The fund’s goal is to give low-income children in New York City the opportunity to get out and experience the countryside in the summertime. Today, the Fresh Air Fund offers numerous outdoors opportunities via family hosting programs and summer camps.
The Kids Fit Foundation was established in 2011 to provide day events and after-school activities for kids around the United States so they could have dedicated active time.
“The Kids Fit Foundation knows that the future depends on the strength of our children, families and communities,” organizers write. “So, while children have fun in after-school programming, it’s our goal that they participate in activities that develop health, wellness and character as well as core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility that stay with them for a lifetime.”
Project Fit America works at the grassroots level to bring funding and support to elementary and middle schools, helping create new opportunities for children to become active, fit, and healthy. In 2015, Project Fit America celebrates its 25th birthday. In the past quarter-century, the organization has donated to more than 870 schools in 300 cities and 43 states.
Achilles International was created in 1983 by Dick Traum, the first amputee to run in the New York Marathon. The charity Traum founded has, over the past 31 years, grown to 65 member organizations around the country that provide active opportunities for people with disabilities.
Good Sports makes quality sporting equipment available to kids around the US who wouldn’t otherwise have access to things like cleats, baseball bats, tennis rackets, golf clubs, etc. To date, Good Sports has been responsible for $11 million worth of sporting goods donations, which has gone to benefit more than 900,000 young student athletes.
Harlem RBI is a development program for kids in East Harlem that works year-round to give local kids a place to play and grow. On a bigger-picture scale, Harlem RBI hopes to develop and graduate well-rounded people who are physically active, good citizens, work-ready, and graduates from high school and college.
Jill Vialet founded Playworks in 1996 to create structured, productive recesses for schoolchildren. “Principals tell us that nearly all discipline-related problems in school occur during lunch and recess,” Playworks organizers write. “Instead of going back to class energized and ready to learn, the kids return to class upset and unable to focus.”
Playworks, instead, works to make recess inclusive, and to teach children meaningful dispute-resolution skills (a.k.a. rock-paper-scissors) so that they can learn to get along and sustain that peace.
Skateistan uses skateboarding as a tool for cultural exchange and empowerment among Afghan youths, particularly girls. After all, girls aren’t allowed to ride bikes in Afghanistan, but they’re free to skate.
“Skateistan has developed an innovative, youth-led programming that builds confidence, trust and social capital among children,” Skateistan’s team writes. “We use ‘the hook’ of skateboarding to connect kids with education. We provide opportunities for education, leadership, and creative thinking that help break the cycles of poverty and exclusion.”
The Mauli Ola Foundation was created by a group of surfers in 2007 who thought their sport would be a good treatment for people suffering from cystic fibrosis. This isn’t quackery; the saline from the ocean spray helps many CF patients decongest and breathe more easily. As a bonus, patients who wouldn’t otherwise get the chance get to experience the thrill of surfing.
One more from the surfing community. Operation Amped organizes surfing clinics for military veterans, who benefit not only from the fun of surfing but from its therapeutic properties, similar to those mentioned above, and from simply being able to join an open and welcoming community in the process.
Charities That Raise Money Through Sports and Exercise
Speaking of tight communities, the CrossFit community has its own official fundraising organization that to date has raised more than $3.2 million for
- finding cures to cancer and other illnesses
- teaching children how to swim
- education opportunities and scholarships
- and relief and educational opportunities for communities in Kenya.
Pushups for Charity partners with the Boot Campaign to raise money for veterans and their families. The organization’s current goal is to get 1.4 million pushups pledged, which would mean $1 million raised for the Boot Campaign.
The Yankees sponsor this softball tournament, hosted by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Columbia University Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Fund, to benefit tumor research.
“Pediatric brain tumor research holds much promise, with tremendous potential to improve the lives of afflicted children,” organizers write. “It is only with financial support, however, that we will be able to carry out meaningful research and advance our knowledge of these diseases.”
Preparations are underway for the 10th annual Dodging Diabetes tournament in Laurel, Maryland, which should take place in March 2015 (dates TBD). To date, the tournament has raised more than $60,000 for the Joslin Diabetes Center, the largest diabetes research center in the world.
In 2014, Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen partnered with the C.H. Robinson company to host the world’s largest kickball tournament, in Chicago, to benefit cancer research. The event was a huge success — and it looked like a lot of fun, too — so keep an eye out for a followup tournament in the summer of 2015.
lead image by:
United Nations / Flickr