Wesley Boone, who just finished his junior year at North Montgomery High School, charts the locations where his “Gear Going Global” is being distributed on a map tacked to a wall inside his family’s garage. While watching a documentary this spring of Indiana’s electric co-op linemen in Guatemala, he noticed the children there kicking rocks and homemade soccer balls. A goalkeeper for his high school soccer team, Wes wanted to help. With his parents’ support, he formed a nonprofit organization to collect and distribute donated new and used sporting equipment to disadvantaged children in poor areas of the world.
by Richard G. Biever
Wesley Boone comes across as a typical high school athlete from rural Indiana. Conscientious and quiet, he’s a goalie for the North Montgomery High School soccer team and kicks for the football team. In winter, he wrestles; in spring, he’s run track.
Beyond that, he may never get his name inked in a record book, lit up on a scoreboard or printed on a bubblegum card. But Wes, who just completed his junior year, has already made a positive impact on the international world of sports. He’s become a compadre — a benefactor — to young sports fans living in poverty in distant pinpoints around the globe.
That’s because he initiated a program this spring — Gear Going Global — which distributes new or gently used athletic equipment collected through donations to children in poorer regions of the world. Its first shipments of various kinds of balls, plastic baseball bats and even soap bubbles were sent to an orphanage and an outreach ministry for children of migrant farmworkers on the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.
Other shipments have been or soon will be delivered by missionaries and medical students traveling to Guatemala, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Kenya.
The young philanthropist, who’ll be among the 77 students attending the Indiana Youth Tour to Washington, D.C., later this month, was inspired to start the program after seeing poor children in Guatemala kicking rocks instead of soccer balls in the “Power to the People” PBS documentary. The film, made by crews from WFYI in Indianapolis, followed the month-long work of Indiana electric cooperative linemen as they brought electricity for the first time to three hardscrabble mountain villages late last summer.
“You can tell your kids there are kids that don’t have anything or have very little,” said Amie Cox, Wesley’s mom. “‘Power to the People’ just had great examples of how children in Third World countries live.”
Through a family connection with the state’s REMCs, Amie saw a preview of the documentary that aired in April and May on PBS TV stations around the state. She received a copy to show Wes and his sister, Olivia, an eighth grader.
“Wes was really struck by it,” Amie said. “These boys were kicking rocks for a soccer ball. It kind of hits you. American kids can start organized sports at age 4. It’s just something you take for granted. Here, these kids don’t even have the equipment to play with.”
“When I saw them playing with rocks and some other round object that they’d made themselves, I thought, ‘Jeez, that’s horrible,’” Wes said. “They need to have a real soccer ball.”
Amie, the media specialist at Crawfordsville High School, and her husband, Michael Cox, assistant principal at North Montgomery High School, saw a teaching moment. They convinced Wes if he wanted to do something about what he saw, he could.
The family talked about it and decided to start the service initiative they dubbed “Gear Going Global.” “We were looking for an umbrella term that would cover everything without being too limiting but not be too broad,” said Amie. “Once he decided on it, it just seemed perfect.”
“The whole alliteration facet of it flows,” added Michael Cox. “That’s what you’re hoping, anyway; that you’ll remember it because of that.”
But by any name, Amie told her son, “This is your thing. We’ll guide you. But it’s not going anywhere unless you do it.”
Wes’ response: “Yeah, I want to do this.”
The ball rolling
Gear Going Global’s first goal was to place soccer balls right at the bare feet of the children Wes saw in the “Power to the People” documentary in the western mountains of Guatemala. But right off the bat, the realities of a nonprofit organization and the logistics of international shipping figuratively bonked them in the back of the head.
Even with family connections in the shipping business, Amie learned to send a box of the equipment they had gathered internationally would cost around $800. “Well, the gear is probably $20 in value,” she said.
That was a hurdle, she said, but not the end of the road. “We’ve just got to figure out another way around that.”
The family intensely hit the Internet searching for alternatives. While getting gear to those three villages in the documentary remains a goal, Gear Going Global worked on other avenues of distribution to other regions of the world.
That’s when they found the orphanage on the Baja Peninsula, south of the border. It maintained a California mailing address that made that shipment affordable. By the end of March, the first shipment was made to the Vicente Guerrero orphanage. Another box of goods was sent to the Welcome Home Outreach which ministers to migrant camp families, also in Baja, Mexico.
The orphanage sent an email and photos back to Wes thanking him and blessing him for the donation. “From the photos,” Wes said, “I thought to myself, ‘I just touched these and put them in the box for them, and it’s already in their hands.’ It puts a really good feeling in your stomach.”
On the home front, Wes turned to social media, friends and coaches at his school to gear up the inventory for future shipments. He was soon receiving donations of all kinds of balls — soccer, football, baseball, kick ball, bouncy balls — along with bats, tennis rackets, baseball gloves, even a boomerang.
They also reached out to the Indiana Soccer Association. Wes tries to tailor the packages of gear to where the gear is heading and the requests of the prospective recipients. As the “world sport,” soccer gear is most in demand.
They also turned to the media to raise Gear Going Global’s profile in seeking donations. The Crawfordsville Journal Review featured Wes in an April sports section page 1 story. “Our whole purpose is getting more donations. It’s not that Wes wants to toot his own horn, or I want to toot his horn,” said Amie, “It’s just trying to get the word out so donations will start coming in.”
Wes noted most everyone has old unused sports gear sitting around. “I want to get that gear into the hands of children who will use it and appreciate it,” he told his local newspaper.
Equipment that is too big, too cumbersome or simply not allowed to tote on international flights is sold to used sporting goods stores. With that money and the monetary donations they’ve received, Wes will then buy other used equipment or the carry-on bags at second hand non-profit stores like Goodwill. Small air pumps and needles are also included with each shipment so the balls can be reinflated when they are distributed to the eager hands.
Meanwhile, other opportunities to send the gear global were found amid a network of family and friends. That’s when the ball, Amie noted, really got rolling.
They partnered with the Timmy Global Health and the Timmy Foundation at Butler University to have a group of students heading to another area of Guatemala in May take gear with them. Wes also partnered with GlobeMed at Indiana University for students to carry gear to Ecuador later this month.
A missions team from the Westfield Friends Church, where Wes has participated in a youth group, will take a box of gear to Kenya, just about the time Wes will be arriving in Washington for Youth Tour. Amie also reconnected with a former Crawfordsville High School exchange student from Nicaragua, now an art therapist, to have a box of gear delivered to an orphanage there.
“It’s all about networking,” Amie said.
Gear Going Global provides bags and boxes that the deflated balls and other donated gear are stuffed into that the students flying to the countries volunteer to carry on or check.
The response from the recipients has made Wes and his parents realize how relatively untapped this field they’ve entered is. Amie said they received an email back from the supervisor of mission in Kenya where a shipment of soccer balls is headed later this month. “He was just floored because he never thought to even ask for sports gear because he thought it was too trivial.”
“It’s such a blessing,” Michael said the email read, “because it’s something I’ve always felt was a need, but I’ve always felt wrong in asking for it because you’d see so many other things you’d think are a need. Any gear you can bring down would be greatly appreciated because we simply don’t have anything.”
“It’s such a great diversion for them,” Michael added. “That stuck with Wes when he read that.”
After school, his sports practices or refereeing the youth soccer league and doing homework, Wes will spend most evenings emailing people or groups for donations or writing thank you notes for donations he’s already received.
While many athletes often toss out the clichés about playing the games “only one at a time” when asked about the future, Wes is already thinking long-term for his nascent nonprofit. Gear Going Global received its articles of incorporation from the state last month and has filed for official 501(c)(3) status from the IRS. Wesley sees the potential for a career path after college if this niche gets big enough to support a full-time position.
He plans to pursue Outdoor Recreation and Resource Management at Indiana University after high school. “Gear Going Global and this IU major complement each other,” Amie noted. “If he gets into IU, he plans to add a business, administration or philanthropy minor to it.”
Wes has always been active in helping where he can. He’s volunteered as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army. He went to tornado-stricken Henryville last spring for a day of service with classmates. He’s garnered sportsmanship and attitude awards in the sports he’s participated in. He’s dealt with a number of surgeries to rebuild the cleft lip and palate he was born with, one just last month and the next (and last) coming in July.
Sports and athletes these days are often criticized, especially where the big bucks of professional athletes and athletics are involved. But Wes has always played sports for the pure joy they bring. He said he wants to share that with less fortunate children.
“Kids are in poverty. They may not be in the best situation,” said Wes. “Sports gear helps distract them against all the other worse things going on in their lives. I think that’s where they find joy and happiness. They can play. It can make the kids bond together.”
Amie has also seen the good his project has done for him. “Wesley can be a little shy and reserved, so this has been a good way of pulling him out of his shell through email, social media and face-to-face interviews,” she said. “Michael and I are thrilled because it’s just a great learning experience for him.”
Diane Willis, a former Indianapolis TV news anchor and now a freelance journalist who went to Guatemala to cover the electric co-op project and narrated, co-wrote and co-produced “Power to the People,” said she was touched to hear its effect on Wes.
“All of us on the WFYI documentary crew hoped people who saw ‘Power to the People’ would learn, feel, be moved and be inspired. But Wes took it many steps further. He was inspired to act,” she noted. “It takes an exceptional person with a big heart to reach out to children he’s never seen, who live so very simply, yet have the same desires to play and grow up as children do anywhere in the world,” Willis said.
“The documentary shone a light on the big hearts and the cooperative spirit across Indiana. Wes continues that tradition,” Willis added. “I can imagine how excited and amazed the children we saw each day in those mountains will feel, knowing that he cared enough and dreamed big enough to want to reach out to them.”
Wesley Boone has already made an impact on the wide world of sports — by reaching out to make the world of sports not so wide. His Gear Going Global is trying to shrink the world and the borders and boundaries that separate those who have all the equipment they’d ever need and the poor children of the world who have so little.
Richard G. Biever is senior editor of Electric Consumer. If you’d like to donate sports equipment, especially soccer balls, or cash, find Gear Going Global on Facebook, or email GearGoingGlobal@gmail.com.
Here are links to:
• The WFYI documentary, "Power to the People"
• The November 2012 Electric Consumer article on the Guatemala project