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INTERVIEW: Mark Crandall On Hoops 4 Hope’s Annual Summer Benefit, An Ultimate Adventure, And More

Nicole Barylski

"They really need a community of people that they can count on," Crandall said about Hoops 4 Hope participants. (Courtesy Photo)

Hoops 4 Hope (H4H) will host an evening of Southern African Braai (BBQ), Sundowners (cocktails), and live music at the stunning home of Janice and Jon Hummel in Amagansett on Sunday, August 4.

We recently chatted with H4H founder Mark Crandall about this year's summer benefit, what led to him establishing the non-profit, next year's ultimate adventure, and more.

What inspired you to found Hoops 4 Hope?

MC: I run a summer camp here in the Hamptons, East Hampton Sports Camp - that I started when I was 22-years-old. I had initially gone over to Africa as an exchange student from East Hampton High for my junior year where I spent as kind of the first exchange student ever in Zimbabwe, back in 1984. I loved working with kids, I wanted to get back to Africa and so I went back to work with kids and restarted the camp that I had started here in the Hamptons, to do something similar there for children, which morphed into doing Hoops 4 Hope. We bring sports and life skills to where the kids are in the very disadvantaged communities of Zimbabwe and South Africa.

The organization has grown quite a bit since you founded it in 1995. Can you speak a bit about its growth and some of the success stories?

MC: We really are about communities helping themselves. We've been able to really empower young adults to be those change agents within their own communities. They're the ones that are coaching, as much as I'm from here in New York, and really taken that camp model and the model of really the way sports happens here in the Hamptons, which whether it's little league or biddy basketball. My whole life I grew up with having great coaches from the community. We brought that model over there. The difference is here, your schools and your communities have all the resources at least for the equipment. There's courts, there's coaches, there's beautiful fields here. Unfortunately, a lot of those communities struggle to have even the basic tools to play sports. So we do bring a lot of sporting equipment from this side over there, but really what makes it is we do after school programs, we do the leagues, we do events, tournaments. To make all that happen, you really need a motivated and empowered workforce. We're able to really find kids that were either a part of our program who kind of graduated through and became our local coaches, or, there's a very high unemployment rate there so it's quite easy to find great young people who are willing to give back to their community in a lot of ways. That is really the magic there.

Having seen kids who have come through the program and then become one of those coaches, giving back is always a success story. There's so many. Whether it's the power of a sneaker that's come from this side, we tend to bring a shipment every couple of years over of the most powerful items that it really takes to play sports. We bring sneakers, where, most of the kids or many of the kids are playing without shoes on the hot concrete - playing basketball or soccer - and they're quite resilient and have a lot of grit for doing so. But, to be able to give them a real pair of sneakers, even though it might be used from a kid on this side, really can be a great reward and motivation for them for being part of our programs. We're really not just about sports, we're using that time and opportunity to deal with a lot of the life challenges that kids have there. We focus on what we call our seven tools of the champion, which are just basic values of respect, integrity, focus, self esteem, sense of humor, empathy, which there they call Ubuntu, as kind of an African ethos of human teamwork. It really translates to: I am because we are. We do a lot of innovative games to help kids understand those values. We do a lot of role plays and different games using sports to help them understand the values that they need to help them make good decisions in the face of real challenges around them - because many are living in single parent households or even some are child run households. Poverty is pretty evident there. They really need a community of people that they can count on that are keeping them off the streets and keeping them just having fun. There's one of the UN children's rights that's every kid has the right to play sports and have fun - so we're kind of fulfilling a lot of these sustainability goals for these communities.

What will this year's Summer Benefit entail?

MC: We do an annual benefit every year here in the Hamptons, and this year, we're excited because we have a brand new house, a BatesMasi + Architects designed brand new house here in Amagansett. It was built for the Hummel family. They've generously allowed us to do our party at their house and we have what we call our African Braai, we have the support of the feedfeed, who's helped to curate the food and the amazing chefs at Mill House Inn and many food purveyors here in the Hamptons - Balsam Farms, Amber Waves Farms, Acabonac meats, everybody has really contributed. We had feedfeed and Mill House do the cooking last year and they really took it to the next level. Their chefs have been inspired by traveling and Africa so they do a whole African BBQ, the Sundowners, which is the cocktail, we've got Wölffer wines and just a stunning, amazing new architecturally designed house in Amagansett that will really bring Africa to the Hamptons.

We're a very grassroots organization, as much as we've grown over the 25 years. I'm a volunteer founder director. Our development director is also volunteer, we're all run by volunteers trying to sustain our programs that are reaching about 7,500 kids in 60 plus schools for free of charge - programs between Zimbabwe and South Africa. We've got a lot of amazing sports packages and ticket items and just an amazing auction table of great items that people can help support and sustain our programs and support.

What will proceeds support?

MC: They help to really make sure that our programs can survive in the 60 plus schools. We're all free of charge for those kids in those communities. It helps to run the daily teams that we run and our leagues and our tournaments there. We do a lot of feeding for the kids as well during all those, which could be their only meal of the day. Our programs are ongoing. It's not like we come like a camp and then just leave. These kids count on us every month of the year to be there in those communities, helping kids be kids. Our events tend to be very organic like that - we've got African music, we've got some Zimbabweans in town that play bass and marimba and drums so people really feel Africa and be inspired by being part of the event on August 4.

In addition to the Summer Benefit, you'll also be raising funding during Dogpound X H4H Workouts at The Surf Lodge. Could you speak a little bit about that?

MC: That's a great collaboration with a very high-end fitness gym in New York City, Dogpound. They do some some pop up events here in the Hamptons. So we're excited to be the recipient of the proceeds of two days of workout clinics at The Surf Lodge, the 3rd and the 4th, just to really bring more awareness to our programs and maybe find some new supporters. It's our first time working with Dogpound and we're excited to work with them.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

MC: As being an Amagansett local and having Africa be my other home - that I've been over there since for the last 35 years, we've really benefited from the connection here in the Hamptons. We brought over three school groups over the years from the Ross School. We've brought over many individuals to come and see our programs there because those are always the people who are most impacted when you can see the amazing programs and coaches that are working with these great kids over there. We are always excited for people to come and see and we work with a travel agency that helps people do that.

In March 2020, we're doing the ultimate trip - bringing my passions as a founder togehter. We have a cycle race that we do every year called the Cape Town Cycle Tour, which is 75-miles over three mountain passes. It's the biggest bicycle race in the world, it happens in Cape Town in March. We're going to be doing that and challenging supporters to come with us and raise a little bit of money on top of the trip, and then we'll give them an opportunity to surf, which is one of my other passions, and then go on a safari with us. I'll be leading that trip in March 2020. If anyone's interested in that we're going to be announcing it at our benefit and if anyone is interested, we can give them more information, but it'll be a bike, surf, safari, ultimate giving back adventure.

Admission to the Summer Benefit starts at $150 and $35 for children.

For more information, visit hoopsafrica.org.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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