February 03, 2017
Communications and Marketing
When Luke Testa '19 played youth sports in greater Manchester, he occasionally noticed, "This ball could stand to be replaced." Several years later, that observation led Testa to co-found Project PLAY, a local nonprofit that provides athletic equipment to sports groups, clubs with athletic activities, and directly to families.
Now in its fourth year, Project PLAY has achieved a new milestone: the largest grant the small, young organization has ever received. In a recent competition at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), "The N.H. Social Venture Innovation Challenge," Project Play placed third and was awarded $2,000.00.
"This grant will allow us to change our model and expand," said Testa. "Our expenses are few but lack of storage has limited our distribution. After a collection drive for used sports equipment, we generally have to quickly move the balls, bats, etc. to an appropriate group. With this funding, we can maximize drives, distribution and timing to get equipment to kids when we have enough for a sport, and at the right time of year." The new storage facility, to be known as "The Sports Shack," will be located at one of Project PLAY's partner locations.
A dual major in English and Secondary Education, Testa says the Social Venture Innovation Challenge was "exactly like ‘Shark Tank,' the TV show." He and co-founder Kate Aiken, a student at UNH, were selected as finalists from 78 projects in N.H., leading to the final step of a five-minute in-person presentation before seven judges including Eric Carlson, Chief Financial Officer, Timberland Corporation, as well as several entrepreneurial New Hampshire business representatives.
"Three of our five minutes were a required video, leaving two minutes to verbally make our pitch," said Testa. "Five minutes of questions and answers followed, and that was kind of nerve-wracking but we did our best to anticipate what we'd be asked."
Project PLAY has distributed over 6,000 pieces of athletic equipment to Greater Manchester programs including youth football, soccer and basketball, and specifically to groups including the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, Kids Café and ROCA Kids Club. "In our small way, it is an honor to assist these organizations, which are doing terrific work," says Testa.
Testa credits the Saint Anselm community with vital support of the organization. "One of our drives received a tremendous amount of donated equipment from students, staff, faculty, and administration. The Meelia Center for Community Engagement was a great help; I owe them a big thank you for making that drive a possibility."
He also credits his own appreciation of the value of athletics with driving his mission. "Sports taught me countless life lessons and I experienced the generosity of others when I personally was sponsored to play football and basketball by local businesses and families. Now, I am fortunate to be able to help disadvantaged youth receive similar opportunities to learn similar life lessons: the values of teamwork, perseverance, hard work and leadership."
As a high school participant in Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership, Testa explains he "developed a mindset" to create a community service venture. He and Aiken started Project PLAY as high school sophomores; now they continue their charitable work as college sophomores. They are currently transitioning into a larger lineup of staff members: four high school seniors currently working with the organization and three sophomores from Central High School of Manchester joining them.
Previously, Project PLAY received a Disney "Summer of Service" Grant, and a Disney "Friends for Change" Grant, both funded by Disney, ABC Family, and Youth Service America. Since 2013, Project PLAY has been recognized three times by Youth Service America and the Festival of Children Foundation for its mission and work.