#UnitedBy building bridges - Lindsey Kittredge
Boston-based NGO Shooting Touch was founded in 2007 by Lindsey Kittredge and her husband Justin to empower at-risk youth, women and members of their communities to live healthier lives through sport. Thanks to their work, Shooting Touch won the IOC’s 2016 Sport and Active Society Development Grant. Lindsey and a Rwandan Shooting Touch employee will be speaking at the Olympism in Action Forum in October 2018 on how sport can help build stronger communities.
When a good idea, opportunity and purpose align, magic can happen. That was the case when Lindsey Kittredge and her husband Justin used their skills, connections and unyielding desire to give back in a purposeful way. Enter Shooting Touch – the Boston-based couple’s international sport-for-development organisation that uses the power of sport to educate and empower at-risk youth, women and their communities to live healthier lives.
For Kittredge, filling a void that her professional careers couldn’t was always the goal. However, she didn’t have a strategic roadmap for how she’d reach her destination.
“Shooting Touch was founded rather organically, in 2007, when my husband was working at Reebok and coaching inner-city youth in basketball in Boston,” says Kittredge. I was working in real estate PR, but having a hard time trying to find a sense of purpose for what I was doing. I had played sport my entire life, and my dream job was to work at the Red Sox Foundation or the Celtics Foundation, something that used the power of sport to help kids.”
Lindsey’s passion for sports and assisting children coupled with Justin’s coaching experience made the couple’s objective clearer.
“My husband would come back from his weekend coaching sessions and say, ‘There's a real need for this type of programming in the city. There's no programming that allows kids free mentorship, free education, free access to play or increased physical activity. I think we should start something,’” Kittredge recalls.“ I said, ‘Why don't we start a non-profit?’ And so, that's what we did.”
Scoring Without a Game Plan
Since the couple had no background in running a non-profit, they knew the course of bringing their organisation to fruition would be met with obstacles – but they were up for the challenge. They utilised online resources, researched feverishly and rolled up their sleeves.
“A lot of people ask if we had a strategic plan,” Kittredge says. “We didn't. I very vividly remember Googling ‘how to build a website’ and ‘how to build a non-profit’. We really knew absolutely nothing about the world of non-profits or the world of sport for development. We just got started and addressed problems as we saw them. It slowly grew from an event-based model of hosting camps, clinics and educational sessions for kids in Boston to an international programme in Rwanda.”
We are proud to use the power of sport to significantly affect their lives with not only health education, but also a job that helps them support their family.Lindsey Kittredge
Today, the organisation has two programmes: Getting Girls in the Game, in Boston, and the Basketball Health Corps, in Rwanda. Both provide opportunities and access for kids in need to be able to play sport, and learn vital health information about wellness, mental health, education, nutrition and disease prevention.
Choosing the site for their international outpost was easy for the Kittredges. Setting up shop in Rwanda was not by chance, but rather a mindful, incisive decision.
“The history of Rwanda plays into the reason we chose it as the location for our international programme,” she says. “After the '94 genocide, 67 per cent of the population of Rwanda was under the age of 18. So number one, there was an enormous demographic of kids and youth that were really underserved and living in extreme poverty and disease. Many children were orphans or came from single-parent households because they lost family members. A lot of them had dealt with PTSD.”
The devastation of genocide affected all Rwandans, but its impact on young people and women was even more severe. Thus, support and resources for these groups were greatly needed to help them overcome setbacks and position them for success.
“Rwanda is the most densely populated country on the continent of Africa, so when tragedy struck, there was a massive number of youth and women in desperate need of basic living necessities – health care, access to healthy water, health education, etc.,” Kittredge explains. “The government was very open for vetted NGOs to come in and help the country continue to rebuild its foundation. So when we landed here, the country was really welcoming and supportive, and for that we are really grateful.”
Playing to Win
While providing this underserved group with the proper necessities and health education to thrive was a priority, creating opportunities that promoted physical activity was also important. In 2016, Shooting Touch won a Sport and Active Society grant (worth USD 20,000), an initiative of the IOC’s Sport and Active Society Commission. The grant was created to encourage people from around the globe to participate in regular physical activity and to promote the health and social benefits of sport.
“The development grant for Sport and Active Society that we earned from the International Olympic Committee came at such a perfect time,” says Kittredge. “It enabled us to improve the mobilising tournaments and events that we hold throughout the year and use those events as large educational opportunities for massive amounts of people. We used 40 per cent of that grant to host a very impactful gender-based violence awareness tournament.” Using nearly half of the grant to host the special event was a thoughtful move for the organisation. In Rwanda, women aren’t traditionally sports participants.
“In Rwanda, you’ll see that gender norms and the roles of a man and a woman are drastically different from what we're used to in the United States,” Kittredge says. “It was and continues to be important for us to use our events as educational opportunities for the public. Because we have encouraged the women in our communities to take the risk and engage, we have since raised the number of female participants in three years to 350 women and 325 girls. The tournament that the IOC helped support shed light on the fact that women are equal members of communities and equal members of our sports programming. It was really helpful in allowing us to make that upward trend in gender equity throughout our programming.”
Staying the Course
While Kittredge always knew she wanted to give back in a way that incorporated sport and youth, she’s still surprised by the organisation’s rapid, steadfast success. “I think if somebody had told me, ‘Ten years from now you're going grow this project of yours into a global sport for development organisation,’ I would have said, ‘You are absolutely insane,’” she says.
The programme has grown exponentially since its launch, and Kittredge has no plans to let it slow down. In fact, she and her husband have big ideas and goals that they’re aiming to set into motion within the next 12 months. “As for what's next, right now we're working on a huge, strategic five-year plan,” she says. “We really feel that in a year, our programme in Rwanda will be completely sustainable with local talent. Our entire coaching staff is Rwandan, and we’re in the process of hiring our first Rwandan in-country programme director. So we're not only empowering women and men, but we're also providing a pathway to employment. We are proud to use the power of sport to significantly affect their lives with not only health education, but also a job that helps them support their family. We're looking to get a lot more institutional funding so we can continue to grow domestically here, in Boston, and take our international model throughout Rwanda, or maybe even to another country.”
Going Beyond the Gold
The Olympic Games exemplify the good in humanity. From courage to excellence, the values that the Games uphold often parallel the ideals of running a successful non-profit. Having a platform that advances those in need while using sport as a catalyst for greatness is something that Kittredge doesn’t take for granted.
“To me, Olympism is not just about being the best athlete on the field, or court, or anything like that,” she says. “It’s about trying to be the best example of why sports are so important for people who need it the most. It's about being able to use the influence and connectivity of sport to help others. We can do this with young girls in a way that is extremely powerful, because allowing girls and women to feel empowered through sport allows them to grow into confident women in their communities, households, workforce and personal lives. If women are looked at as equal members, or equal athletes, the world will shift for the better.”