January 6, 2009
We had a visit last week from a young man who is about to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah. Lev Schechter and his Mom, Cantor Riki Lippitz came to discuss what Lev might do for his mitzvah project – how could he make a difference? I always enjoy these conversations…I learn a great deal about the young people I speak with and after a few questions I can usually point them in the right direction. Nothing quite prepared me for the speed in which this Bar Mitzvah found his "calling". No sooner did we get through some pleasantries about school and the Bar Mitzvah and that all-important question "what do you really enjoy?", than we hit pay dirt! When Lev said he enjoyed sports, I immediately thought of a new program that we recently discovered. Very tentatively, I asked, "baseball?" Lev’s eyes lit up! Baseball was indeed one of his favorites. I knew right then that we had hit a homerun and I shared the story of Brett Kalikow and Homerun Hopefuls.
In 2002 when Brett (now a senior at Harvard) was a teenager vacationing with his family in the Dominican Republic he left the resort in search of a local baseball game. Nothing quite prepared him for what he discovered. Baseball, we know, is a very popular sport in the Dominican but sadly the way it is played is not always what we may recognize here. When Brett came upon a game, he saw kids using milk or juice cartons for mitts, rocks for balls and sticks for bats. The first thing Brett thought of was how much equipment he and his friends back in New York had lying around. Shoes, bats, balls, mitts, jerseys, t-shirts…who didn’t have tons of this in the basement, the attic, or stuck in the back of a closet? The answer was simple.
As soon as Brett returned to New York he began to collect whatever he could find. In a very short time he had five boxes filled with perfectly good equipment. The next question was how to get it to the Dominican Republic? In time, Brett made contact with someone at the Dominican consulate and soon a shipper was found who agreed to ship the items at no cost. Brett and his family were encouraged to return to the country to distribute everything themselves and indeed, that spring they did just that. Since that first visit, Brett and his family have returned each year to distribute new collections that have been gathered by others who learned about his project. Homerun Hopefuls, Brett’s non-profit, continues its good work and has become a favorite of many Bar Mitzvah kids who love baseball.
So-within perhaps 10 minutes or less, Lev Schechter knew just what he was going to do. We put him in touch with another young man who had gathered a collection for his Bar Mitzvah and also gave him a one page "how to" sheet which should get him started on his own project very soon.
Love baseball? Check out http://www.homerunhopefuls.org/.