Luke Testa remembers one of the most unusual items he and the Project PLAY team collected over the nonprofit’s 2 1/2-year existence. “It was a pair of really, really small pink Princess roller blades,” he recalled.
But he and his colleagues found a home for them.
Project PLAY, the charity Testa founded with fellow high school students, recently held its biggest-ever used sports equipment drive as part of Global Youth Services Day. The event involved four local high schools in addition to Bedford, Manchester Central and Trinity, the home schools of the three founders, and brought more than 500 pieces of equipment into the hands of children in Manchester, Montana and Guatemala.
Courtney Peterson of Bedford, Kate Aiken of Central and Testa, a Derry resident attending Trinity in Manchester, became friends during the Hugh O’Brian Youth (HOBY) Leadership Conference when they were sophomores. The HOBY program grooms leaders, Testa said, and encourages its attendees to adopt projects.
Testa, Aiken and Peterson decided to work on a project together, he said. They first wanted to hold an all-day sports field day for underprivileged children in their area, but the insurance concerns were too daunting. They brainstormed their way to Project PLAY, which proved more sustainable in the long run.
They decided on a two-fold approach: sponsoring children’s registration fees for team sports and providing them with gently-used equipment for those sports. “We opened in 2013 and it has grown every year,” Testa said. “Every year we sponsor more kids.”
The group pays registrations for any Manchester child who needs it for any organized sport – through the schools, Little League, Boys and Girls Club, YMCA or recreation league. The sports they get requests for are usually baseball, basketball and soccer, Testa said, adding, “We don’t get as many for football, for some reason.”
Via equipment drives, they also provide the children, most of whom are in elementary school, with gear. They have been running the drives in their own three schools and have done well, he said.
This year was bigger. The three teens, all seniors, applied for a grant from Youth Services America and received $1,000. The extra cash allowed them to expand their borders, and they had an expanded collection day and also reached out to Pinkerton Academy, Prospect Mountain, Timberlane Regional and a school in Massachusetts.
How do they find deserving young athletes? There are two ways, Testa said. “We contact the presidents of the local sports leagues and ask them if there are kids in need of sponsorship. There are always a couple,” he said. And they have their own Web site at projectplaynh.wix.com/projectplaynh.
Because Trinity holds student mission trips to Guatemala and to an Indian reservation in Montana, the expanded collection included those two areas, Testa said.
The Global Youth Services Day collection filled five truckloads, Testa said. Some items will be distributed locally and the rest will go to Montana and Guatemala.
Testa and his colleagues have standards: They won’t give the kids anything they won’t use themselves. “It has to be in ‘playing condition,’” Testa said.
Though he and the two young women have changed the lives of younger children, Testa has also been changed, he said. “People said, ‘Oh, three kids can’t start a nonprofit,’” he said. But they did, and have experienced everything from a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, to the pleasure of possibly supporting the next Dustin, Brady or Gronk.
“This has taught me, anything’s possible,” Testa said.
The three seniors have agreed that they’re not giving up PLAY when they go to college. “We’ll still be at the helm,” Testa said. But they’ve found a group of sophomores, much as they once were, who will take over the day-to-day operation.