While vacationing in the Dominican Republic in 2002, Brett Kalikow had a thought. He and his father had wandered from the resort looking to get involved with a local baseball game. Kalikow, 15 years old at the time, had been playing since childhood with West Side Little League in New York City and as a teen with the New York Gothams. His teammates, many of Dominican descent, had told him that if he was going to vacation in the Dominican Republic, he had to play ball with the locals.
Homerun Hopefuls deliver donated uniforms from New Jersey to a league in Higuey in 2006.
What Kalikow encountered shocked him. The 12 and 13-year old boys he found playing baseball were running homemade bases without shoes, swinging tree branches for bats and catching rocks inside milk cartons fitted like gloves. The impoverished suburbs of Punta Cana left many children without shirts to wear, much less sporting equipment with which to play.
“On the bus ride back to the hotel, I told my dad that I wish I’d known [about the conditions],” says Kalikow. “I had a perfectly good mitt at home I wasn’t using anymore. I would have left it there with them.”
That simple idea quickly transformed into a community project, headed up by 15-year old Kalikow. He reached out to his teammates and friends for used equipment and that summer he packed up five boxes to ship back to Punta Cana.
In an effort to ensure the equipment would reach the neediest children, Kalikow reached out to the Dominican Consulate in New York. The consulate’s director of sports, Luis Ducasse, immediately teamed up with Kalikow to facilitate the safe delivery of the collected equipment. Ducasse found a Dominican company to ship the boxes free of charge and encouraged Kalikow and his family to return to the island in order to personally distribute the equipment.
Brett (right, striped shirt) with American volunteers Matt Niebart, Sam Rotbart and Jonathan Lieb at 2008 donation ceremony in Monteplata.
“It was overwhelming,” Kalikow says of his first trip to deliver sporting goods to the impoverished towns. “Hundreds of children were running up to greet us. They were so ecstatic. It was such a touching experience. It made a lot of difference to deliver [the equipment] personally.”
That was in August of 2002. Now 21 years old, Kalikow, a government major at Harvard University who is also involved with his campus Hillel, has grown the project into a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization called Homerun Hopefuls. The charity’s modest Web site has been in development for some time, but a simple Internet presence has driven a good deal of useful traffic toward the cause.
“A lot of 13-year olds looking for Bar Mitzvah project ideas contact me,” explains Kalikow. “They are looking for something to do that’s related to baseball. It’s great for them to be able to do tzedakah in this way.”
Homerun Hopefuls, Kalikow explains, is not just about the game of baseball. The organization also focuses on education and aims to help disadvantaged children escape from poverty in both the physical and mental sense.
Recently, Homerun Hopefuls expanded its deliveries to a small town on the border of Haiti where most children do not have a stitch of clothing to wear. There, Homerun Hopefuls teamed with a local charter school operated by The Dominican Literacy Project. A physical education program was started, a local baseball league was formed and now children are exercising both their minds and bodies in a formerly neglected part of the country.
“There is always a feeling of emptiness when we leave,” says Kalikow. “Like you didn't quite do enough and there's more to do and that's what inspires me to keep coming back.
To learn more about Homerun Hopefuls, contact Brett Kalikow.