Like the youthful prophet Jeremiah, Austin Gutwein could have told God at age 10 that he was too young to speak out. But when he saw a World Vision video about children who had lost their parents to AIDS, he had a different response.
"These kids weren't any different from me, except they were suffering," says Austin, now 13 and living in Mesa, Ariz. "I felt God calling me to do something to help them. I really like to tell kids my age and younger that you don't have to wait till you're an adult to do something."
Austin decided he would do what he loved — shoot free throws. But this time, he would shoot them for the children he was passionate to help. He specifically recalls World AIDS Day in 2004, when he put his idea into action. "People sponsored me, and I raised about $3,000," says the lanky redhead. "We sent World Vision to help eight children orphaned by AIDS."
In the past three years, thousands of people have joined Austin in what he describes as "our basketball shoot-a-thon called Hoops of Hope. It's basically like a walk-a-thon — really a hoop-a-thon — but more fun." Last year, the charity raised $85,000 to help World Vision build the Johnathan Sim Legacy School in AIDS-ravaged Twachiyanda, Zambia.
Austin was able to attend the school's dedication in October. "When we walked into the village, it was amazing to see how many people were there to meet us, to feel their hands, to finally see and meet them."
So what inspired Hoops of Hope to take on the school project in Zambia? Austin explains how the idea came to fruition.
"We had been raising money and giving to [World Vision] child sponsorship the first few years. I told my dad I'd really like to do an actual project. He called World Vision, and we were told that Kelly Sim had lost her husband [Johnathan], who had worked at World Vision. She wanted to build a school in his honor, but she needed someone to help. So that's what we decided to do."
It really was a no-brainer for the young basketball enthusiast — especially after he learned that many children in Twachiyanda had been forced to walk more than six miles to attend school. "It is just too far for 7- and 8-year-old kids to walk, and it keeps many of them from attending school, especially the younger ones," he says.
Now, because of hundreds of Hoops of Hope participant efforts, 430 students between the ages of 7 and 16 have educational opportunities that will help them fulfill their God-given potential — just as Austin is growing into his.
>> Pray for comfort, healing, and protection for children made vulnerable by AIDS. Pray also that young people who have a God-given passion to serve others in need, like Austin, will receive the support and recognition they deserve from their communities.
>> Participate in a Hoops of Hope event.
>> Give monthly to help provide food, education, and care for children orphaned and left vulnerable by the AIDS crisis. Your monthly gift can help one child after another escape a life of horror.
>> Speak out for AIDS-affected children. Add your name to our Make Your Mark for Children petition to ask Congress to swiftly reauthorize the global AIDS bill and ensure that 10 percent of all global AIDS funds be used to care for orphans and vulnerable children.
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