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Austin Gutwein: Hoops of Hope

CBN.com SOMETHING BIGGER THAN HIMSELF

Austin Gutwein believes that anyone, no matter what their age or skill, can make a difference. Austin and his parents sponsored an African boy, Ignatius, through World Vision. Then in 2004, when Austin was nine years old, the Gutweins received a four-minute DVD from World Vision about Maggie, a little Zambian girl who had lost her parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to AIDS. She lived in a mud hut with her 73-year-old great grandmother. Maggie had no school, no bed, and no food.

After Austin saw the DVD, he thought how awful his life would be without his parents. He was really touched by Maggie’s story, and calls it his “Maggie moment.” Austin did not just want to sit back; he felt God was calling him to do something to help.

Maggie’s story opened Austin’s eyes to the millions of AIDS orphans in Zambia. Austin and his parents talked to Dana Buck at World Vision who suggested Austin take something he was passionate about to raise money. Austin loved basketball and decided to hold a fund raising event – much like a marathon – where he would free throw baskets for money. Originally, he called it Baskets of Hope, and he decided to hold the event on World AIDS Day in 2004.

Austin shot 2,057 free throws to represent the 2,057 kids who would be orphaned during a six-hour school day. He raised almost $3000 which World Vision used to help eight orphaned children.

HOOPS OF HOPE

The next year Baskets of Hope became Hoops of Hope, and the participants grew from one person, Austin, to a thousand. From that year forward, many thousands of people have joined Austin. Several years later, NBC did a feature on Hoops of Hope which resulted in 25,000 people participating in future events in 20 countries.

To date, Hoops of Hope participants have raised over $1 million. One hundred percent of all funds raised through the free throw marathons go directly to care for orphan children in AIDS affected areas. From this money, the children left behind by AIDS now have food, clothing, shelter, a new school (the Jonathan Sims Legacy School), a medical clinic and a water system. A second clinic is now under construction as well as four new dormitories for the school.

Participants from all over the world have shot thousands of free throws to represent the thousands of kids orphaned each day. Hoops of Hope has built 2 medical clinics in Zambia; provided 450 bicycles, 750 mosquito nets and 1,000 caregiver kits for AIDS caregivers in Sinazongwe, Zambia. They have built two care centers in Swaziland and a water system in Kenya.

This year participants are raising money to build 4 dormitories for the Jonathan Sim Legacy School in Zambia. They will also be providing thousands of backpacks filled with school supplies, personal hygiene items and a warm blanket for children at the school and surrounding areas.

Austin has been to Zambia twice; once when the school was dedicated and again this year for the dedication of the medical clinic. He plans to return to Africa in August 2010 to dedicate the new school dormitories and the second medical clinic in Zambia.

HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE
Participation with Hoops of Hope can be by yourself in your driveway or with friends, or you can even organize a community, school or church-wide event. The next Hoops of Hope event will be held around the world on December 5 this year’s World AIDS Day. However, if this date doesn't work for you or your group, you may arrange to shoot your free throws on a different day. There will be Hoops of Hope locations throughout the United States, Asia and Europe.

Currently, Austin is a featured guest on the Revolve Tour which is a Christian tour for teen girls. Every weekend he gets to speak to thousands of teen girls. Next year, he's doing the All Star Jam Tour which will be in 12 cities throughout the U.S. with a goal to shoot 15 million free throws to represent the 15 million children orphaned by AIDS in Africa. It is being labeled as the world’s largest free throw marathon.

DO SOMETHING

Austin wants to tell people to do something and don’t sit on the side lines. Just start where you are with anything and you can change the world. You don’t need a game plan or have everything all figured out. Making a difference can be spontaneous. Let God do it. Do something bigger than yourself – you don’t have to have great ability – just be available. If you’re willing, God will use you. Austin hopes to either be a pastor or involved in political science when he’s older.

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