Short story to showcase the success behind our 2020 Ball-Bin campaign
Buffalo, NY – December 3rd, 2020
Since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, many things have changed. Community events have been cancelled, families have spent more time inside, and virtual interactions have replaced in-person connection. One thing that has remained steadfast in Erie & Niagara county is the widespread desire to give kids the opportunity to play sports and enjoy time outside through physical activity.
West Seneca Youth and Recreation is one of many community groups that felt the struggle this summer. Faced with the cancellation of all programming thirty days prior to its scheduled start, Lauren Masset, West Seneca Recreation Director, discovered the Victory Sports ball-bin program, which provides a variety of new and gently used sports equipment to kids for free via a network of 14 bins across Erie & Niagara counties in Western New York. Lauren sent “about a hundred” phone calls and emails to Victory Sports founder Doug Rifenburg and ensured the first ball-bin was placed at West Seneca.
For Lauren, the difference the West Seneca ball-bin has made is regularly visible. She drives by the ball-bin each day when leaving the community center. “Almost every day I am able to see a youth, whether they are 2 or 3 or 16 or 17, with an item from the ball-bin,” she observed. “With COVID-19 I can’t see the kids in person, and I can’t have that interaction with them, to be see them using items from the ball-bin every day is a very cool experience.” Through her work with the ball-bins, Lauren felt a strong alignment on mission with Victory Sports. “I love that Doug pushes ‘Try everything’ and ‘Find your niche’,” she said. “It’s the same thing we are doing.”
Sponsor Stahlka Agency also recognized the importance of the mission and saw a way to help. Mark Stahlka, President of Stahlka Agency, is acutely aware the childhood benefits of sports can last a lifetime. Mark recalls the lessons he learned from his Little League coach, who acted as a father figure to him. Mark now imparts the same values of opportunity and teamwork as a youth basketball and baseball coach. The whole Stahlka family has been involved with the ball-bins: Stahlka Agency’s donations supported the West Side Community Services ball-bin, Stahlka Agency’s employees have helped stock the bins, and Mark’s sons have volunteered in the equipment sorting operation. Stahlka Agency knows sports are critically important to kids’ development, and those skills are put at risk in a quarantine world.
So, what have kids been doing without access to organized sports?
“Driving me crazy!” volunteer Katharine Swierzynski jokes. Katharine is a long-time educator and full-time mom of three. She is a strong advocate of outside play time and her older son, who has ADHD, uses sports as an outlet for his physical energy. Katharine sees first hand the impact restrictions have had on her children, noting that they were not able to play soccer and t-ball this summer.
Unlike Mark, Katharine didn’t grow up with a sports background. She recalls, “I was the one making dandelion bracelets on the soccer field.” That all changed when she met her husband, who is a coach. “I just fell in love with the time and the community,” she observed, “We get to grow together and see our kids grow together.” Now she recommends sports to everyone: “Sports are so beneficial for athleticism, teamwork, respect, accountability – all the skills we want our kids to have!”
Katharine combined her family’s love of sports and her lifelong passion for volunteering by helping to fill bins in four areas in Niagara Falls, where she once attended school. What she saw, and what her kids experienced by helping out, impressed her. When she and her kids restocked the bins, which were always empty prior to her arrival, she received multiple moments of gratitude from community members.
One time a family drove by and shouted “Thank You!” out the window. In another instance a couple grandmothers came by and remarked how the items would be enjoyed by their grandchildren. Perhaps most memorable was the time her son was able to give a ball to another child, who burst into a smile and exclaimed “I can keep it?!” after initial disbelief that the balls were free. To Katharine, these simple acts of service and connection are the greatest achievement of the ball-bin program: “What my children got out of it and what the community got out of it is the best part. It wasn’t for me. I did it to give back to my community.”
Lauren, Mark, and Katharine are just a few of the city workers, business sponsors, and frontline volunteers that made distribution of nearly 2,000 items across 14 ball-bins in Erie & Niagara county possible. Through the Victory Sports ball-bin program, a village of people at all levels were brought together for a common cause: enabling children to be active, try new things, and experience the lifelong benefits of sports participation. Victory Sports is proud to partner with these community members and strengthen Erie & Niagara county through sports.
If you’d like to learn more about 501(c)3 non-profit, Victory Sports, you can visit our Facebook page. For information regarding corporate and community partnership options, please contact Development & Marketing Director, Edmond Wood, via email@example.com or 716-866-1689.