Kid power on the pitch: Young philanthropists build fields in strife-torn areas

Courtesy FUNDaFIELD

While friends worked jobs at In-N-Out Burger and Carl's Jr., Kyle was working to build FUNDaFIELD, an international nonprofit organization. While most of his buddies huddled around a TV, Kyle and his brother, Garrett, jetted off to countries such as South Africa and Uganda to build soccer fields for communities that have recently endured conflict or trauma.

Sure, the Danville, California, native celebrated his driver's license with a spin around town. And, yes, he crushed on girls. But for the better part of the last decade, his has been a broader perspective.

"We have used soccer as a universal language to speak to anyone in the world," says Kyle, now 21 and a senior at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. "For us, this whole notion of the 'power of play' is real."

What FUNDaFIELD does isn't particularly new—there are a number of organizations that use soccer to help the less fortunate in war or grief-stricken areas such as Africa and the Caribbean. What makes the organization unique, however, is its approach: It was created by kids for kids, and draws a significant part of its fundraising power from—you guessed it—kids.

Technically, FUNDaFIELD was born at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. Kyle and Garrett (now 23) attended some of the games with their parents, and, during the matches, the boys got to talking to fans from Angola, which was attending its first World Cup after years of civil war.

During these conversations, the Weiss boys learned that many kids in these countries play in horrendous conditions, often without shoes. Still, Kyle remembers, their passion for the game was palpable.

"Hearing this excitement in their voices, hearing how much joy they got just from playing the game, it was eye-opening for us," he says, looking back. "My brother and I were planning on sending over some gear when it hit us: 'What if they don't even have a place to play?'"

The duo recruited some soccer buddies to set out and make sure playing fields were no longer an issue. They started raising money by sending out letters. They put up a website. They applied for nonprofit status. Gradually cash started flowing in. Before long, they were sitting on $36,000 in donations—just about enough to build a new field.

Since then, the organization has sponsored 11 fields in three different countries (South AfricaUganda and Kenya). The newest field, in Haiti, is expected to open sometime later this year.

Of course FUNDaFIELD has diversified its income sources a bit. While 50 percent of the group's money still comes from donations, 25 percent comes from the sales of jewelry made by artisans in the countries they serve (Kyle's sister, Kira, who is 16, manages these efforts).

The remaining 25 percent of the organization's income comes from other kids; in addition to the Weiss siblings, FUNDaFIELD now is run by a core group of 30 "directors" who are middle- and high-school students. These young people balance schoolwork with extra-curricular fundraising for the organization. Some of the vehicles: Bake sales, book sales and car washes.

FUNDaFIELD also accepts money from hundreds of young adults in college and university chapters around the country.

"Part of what makes the organization special is that it's kids helping kids," said Lisa Tarver, co-founder and chief giving officer of One World Futbol Project, a nonprofit that has invented a virtually indestructible soccer ball and has partnered with FUNDaFIELD over the years.

Representatives of other FUNDaFIELD partner organizations say they have been impressed with Kyle's ability to manage huge international projects over distances and time.

Jane Aronson, CEO and president of Worldwide Orphans Foundation, in Maplewood, New Jersey, has been working with FUNDaFIELD on the new field in Haiti, and said Kyle has handled the logistics like a seasoned veteran.

"These projects are daunting work with a tremendous amount of detail and lots of opportunities for things to fall apart," she said. "What has wowed me about working with them is that nothing ever has fallen apart. We've always communicated well with one another, and even if not, we've always picked up pieces and gone back to make them work."

To be fair, Kyle's parents have helped out with FUNDaFIELD from the beginning; dad manages the books and mom books the trips. Still, with Garrett stepping down to take a full-time job with a private company, day-to-day operations fall mostly to Kyle and Kira.

This type of gumption should serve Kyle well in the next chapter of his life.

While he vows to continue FUNDaFIELD as a side project, he plans to apply some of the lessons he already has learned to other technology companies, particularly those that serve the nonprofit field. This summer he expected to serve as an intern at Bay Area technology firm, Intuit. After that, he says, perhaps he'll try his hand at starting something else.

"The skills for doing this kind of stuff are all the same," he says. "It's just a question of finding something you can get passionate about."

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