The littlest, littlest things

Fifteen-year-old Austin Gutwein is a compelling example of leadership and social responsibility. He and his worldwide network of friends have raised more than $1,000,000 to help African children whose parents have died of AIDS.

Austin sidebarWhile some may judge those with AIDS, Austin only sees children who wake up and find that their parents have passed on. “They are left on their own to care for their many brothers and sisters.” It’s a scene he first saw in a video in 2004. “I realized these kids weren’t any different from me except they were suffering.”

“I really started to think about what it would be like if I lost my parents,” he told NBC News. That thought, coupled with his love of basketball, drove him to shoot 2057 free throws-a number representing the African children who would be orphaned that day-on World AIDS Day. He and his sponsors raised almost $3,000.

With the help of World Vision, an agency dedicated to restoring health and dignity to suffering children, Austin created Hoops of Hope. Today, thousands of kids in schools, churches, and other organizations shoot free throws to raise money for Austin’s new friends in Africa.

In 2006, Hoops of Hope raised $85,000-enough to help World Vision build a high school and orphanage for 1000 HIV/AIDS orphans in Zambia. In 2007, Austin and his friends raised $210,000 to build a medical testing lab and provide 1000 caregiver kits. The clinic opened in March 2009. A second clinic is planned. This year, Austin’s goal is to raise enough money to build dorms at the school.

The AIDS crisis in Africa is difficult to comprehend from the comfort of our sometimes sheltered lives. Yet it did not escape the gaze of this young man who, according to his parents, has always been “an amazing, passionate kid.”

A young heart saw a great need; a small act sparked a great movement-and lives are being changed. As Austin so simply put it, “I realized that if you do just the littlest, littlest thing, you can make a difference, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Austin didn’t let age or position determine his contribution. And, in fact, he found powerful ways to influence others-perhaps mostly by tapping into their own need to contribute and to make a difference. He got results by turning his personal passion for basketball into a force for good.

Kind of makes one reflect on what we were doing at age 14. And perhaps an even greater question might be, “What am I doing now?”

You can learn more about Hoops of Hope here.

And, you can watch the NBC News segment about Austin here.