Kid-run nonprofit aims to level playing field for youth sports in Richmond

Kid-run nonprofit aims to level playing field for youth sports in Richmond
All photos contributed.

By Mike Kinney

A nonprofit is stepping up to support a high school sports program in Richmond after its teenage co-founder read about the team’s equipment needs in the Richmond Standard.

On Thursday, Nov. 3, a GoFundMe spokesperson reached out to the Standard to highlight a fundraiser on its platform that was launched by Cesar Tamayo, the coach of the men’s soccer team at Aspire California College Preparatory in Richmond (Cal Prep). Rishan Patel, CEO of Alley-Oop Kids, said he saw our story and was inspired to help.

Alley-Oop Kids is a kid-run nonprofit that is working to level the playing field for underserved youth in sports. Its legacy project is the Alley-Oop Lending Locker,  which is a locker placed at schools that is filled with sports gear regularly through sports gear drives that are run by students and supported by the nonprofit.

“We are in touch with Coach Cesar Tamayo and will be installing a version of the locker at Cal Prep Richmond ASAP to fill their need for balls, uniforms, and other soccer gear,” said Patel, a sophomore in high school. “Those kids should have a shot with the college scouts!”

The Lending Locker is a physical, weather-proof locker. Thus far, Alley-Oop Kids recently completed a pilot program of five lockers and the nonprofit’s reach is growing, with partnerships with several Bay Area school systems. One of its lockers is in India. On Dec. 2, a locker is set to be installed at Aspire Wilson Prep in Oakland, said Patel, who hopes to ramp up to 50 lockers in 2024.

A self-described “total sports nut,” Patel co-founded Alley-Oop Kids in 2014. That year, as part of a family donation to the local Boys & Girls Club’s basketball program, he offered up a pair of Under Armour basketball shoes. The 10-year-old recipient of those shoes, named Jen, proudly told Patel, “I think I want to try out for the WNBA now!”

Patel said he wondered how many dreams could be inspired from providing resources to underserved youth. He was inspired to co-launch Alley-Oop Kids, which has since been featured on Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’ Instagram stories for its work.

Since its inception, Alley-Oop Kids has impacted thousands of Bay Area youth with programs that include running free summer basketball camps in the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto, creating Stay-At-Home Skills and Drills workouts during the pandemic and providing hundreds of San Mateo County foster children with professional sporting event tickets. “Our team of kid volunteers has done it all,” Patel said.

While these projects have been impactful, Patel believes the nonprofit can have a more sustainable impact by scaling its sports equity efforts.

“Participation in youth sports is on the decline in a big way, in low-income families, largely due to the rising cost of equipment,” he said.

Patel points to a recent study showing middle and high schoolers that played sports had higher grades by up to 9 perecent.

“That’s the difference between passing a class and not passing a class and maybe even going to college or not,” Patel said.

The Lending Locker aims to ensure kids have the equipment needed to participate. But Patel wanted to provide more than just a one-off donation of equipment. The nonprofit wanted to have a more sustainable impact, he said.

Inspired by a Netflix show documenting the growth of McDonald’s, Patel said he “found the answers in burgers, kind of.” He modeled the Lending Locker program after the world’s biggest burger franchise by making Alley-Oop Kids the franchisor, and students, aka Lending Locker Captains, the “franchisees.” The franchisees may not make money selling burgers, but Patel describes them as social entrepreneurs like himself who want to be part of the bigger movement around sports equity. 

At the end of each sports season, Lending Locker Captains hold sports gear drives at their schools and in their neighborhoods. Alley-Oop Kids provides the funds to purchase the lockers, gives starter gear, provides signage, and provides sports gear donation collection bins.

“We also support Captains with processes on how and when to communicate with their partner school and how to run a sports gear drive at their school,” Patel said, adding Captains have a “unique service leadership opportunity,” he added. 

Those interested can email [email protected]. Being a captain can count as service hours for your school, Patel said. Those wishing to donate toward the nonprofit’s efforts can do so directly on its website. Donations are tax deductible.