Inspiring Conversations with Arden Pala of Sports4Kids

Arden Pala

Today we’d like to introduce you to Arden Pala.

Hi Arden, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
My name is Arden Pala. I am a 14-year-old San Diegan and the founder of Sports4Kids, a San Diego-based three-year-old nonprofit that supports individuals and youth in our community who are facing homelessness. We do this by providing volunteer opportunities for kids of all ages. With more than 22,000 students in San Diego County identified as homeless (with 1500 of these being unsheltered without family), there’s a great need to help this population.

Sports4Kids (also run by our youth volunteers) feed people without housing, creates care packages for victims of natural disasters, puts together back-to-school backpacks for financially needy families, and organizes care packages for those experiencing homelessness.

Our primary focus, however, is working with low-income and homeless youth who do not have the opportunity to play sports. We bring trained adult volunteer instructors, youth volunteers, and inspirational athletes to work alongside elementary-aged athletes as they learn hard and soft skills associated with sports and life. We also frequently bring in famous and accomplished athletes such as Harlem Globetrotters player Saul ‘Flip’ White Jr. and former NBA Player Larry Krystkowiak (Chicago Bulls).

Several years ago, while volunteering at Perkins Elementary School, I realized that not all children had the same access to sports and physical education. During one of these volunteer sessions, I had a profound encounter with a student named Jayden. Jayden’s enthusiasm for sports was contagious, and I could see the spark in his eyes when he shared his love for athletics. However, it saddened me to learn that Perkins Elementary School couldn’t afford to hire staff for physical education classes, leaving students like Jayden without the opportunity to participate in organized sports. This realization struck a chord within me, igniting a deep desire to bridge this gap and provide underprivileged children with the chance to experience the transformative power of sports. Motivated by my love for basketball, I knew that I had to take action and create a platform to bring sports into these deserving children’s lives.

With unwavering determination, I set out to establish Sports4Kids—an organization dedicated to empowering children from disadvantaged backgrounds by providing them access to sports programs, mentorship, and opportunities for personal growth. Our vision is to create a level playing field where every child, regardless of their circumstances, can benefit from the positive impact of sports.

Since its inception, Sports4Kids has achieved remarkable milestones. We have raised over $140,000, which has directly benefited more than 7,500 individuals in need. Our programs have introduced 450 homeless children to team sports, offering them a sense of belonging and the opportunity to learn essential life skills. Additionally, our organization’s youth volunteers have dedicated a staggering 6,500 hours to serve the homeless population, spreading joy and making a difference in their lives.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back, would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Getting Sports4Kids off the ground was no easy feat in the early stages. It required countless hours of research, planning, and collaboration with educators, community leaders, and fellow sports enthusiasts. However, I was fortunate to have the support of my school teachers, parents, and friends, who believed in the vision and joined me in making a difference. Together, we engaged with the Rotary Club, seeking guidance and support to connect with various groups and secure resources.

To fund our programs and reach more needy children, we actively pursued grants from organizations aligned with our mission. These grants became crucial lifelines that allowed us to expand our initiatives, organize sports clinics, provide equipment, and offer mentorship programs.

However, the heart and soul of Sports4Kids lie in the dedication and passion of our youth volunteers. These incredible individuals have been instrumental in growing our organization on every level. They have selflessly contributed their time and energy, serving as mentors, coaches, and role models for the children we support. Their enthusiasm and commitment have created a ripple effect, inspiring others to join our cause and impacting countless children’s lives.

I am grateful for the support from organizations such as the Lucky Duck Foundation, YSA Hershey Foundation, and the Parker Foundation. Their generosity has enabled us to expand our reach and touch the lives of even more children, helping us create a brighter future for them.

As the founder of Sports4Kids, my commitment remains steadfast—to continue growing our programs, reaching more children, and providing them with opportunities.

Thanks – so, what else should our readers know about Sports4Kids?
I’m a 14-year-old San Diego resident attending Francis Parker Middle School. Aside from my love for basketball and spending time with friends, one of my passions is positively impacting my community. Growing up in a household that emphasized giving back, I’ve been actively involved in various volunteer activities. From assisting at shelters to participating in cleanup crews and supporting Rescue Missions, I’ve learned the value of helping those in need.

My journey as a volunteer began at age 4, primarily with Interfaith Community Services. While serving dinners, I had meaningful conversations with individuals living in shelters. They shared their life experiences on the streets and the challenges they faced along the way. I vividly recall someone telling me about their struggle to secure food and survive under harsh conditions.

Inspired by these encounters, I wrote a book at 8 to donate all the proceeds to a nonprofit organization. The series revolves around a young protagonist named Noah, who discovers a flying car in his backyard and embarks on adventures across different countries. After completing and publishing multiple books, I had the opportunity to visit local low-income schools with a significant homeless population. I donated copies of my books and read them to the children. Through book sales, I raised funds and contributed them to support animal and homeless shelters. The total number of books sold reached approximately 4,000.

When the pandemic struck, my usual volunteering activities were no longer feasible. As a result, I felt compelled to find alternative ways to give back to the community and shed light on the issue of homelessness. With a growing interest in video recording and directing, I created a 10-minute documentary during the pandemic. This documentary aimed to raise awareness about homelessness in San Diego, sharing my personal experiences and the stories I had heard from the local homeless population.

As a passionate basketball fan, I recognized that not all children had equal opportunities to engage in sports and develop a love for basketball. To address this, I established a nonprofit organization called Sports4Kids. Our primary focus is to provide low-income youth with access to sports activities. The program has been incredibly successful, attracting over 30 kids to each practice. Our mission is to offer opportunities for all low-income youth to participate in sports while simultaneously building their physical and social skills, which will benefit them throughout their lives.

My journey as a young San Diegan has involved volunteering, writing books for charity, creating a documentary, and founding Sports4Kids. Through these endeavors, I aim to make a positive difference in the lives of those in need and create equal opportunities for all.

We all have a different way of looking at and defining success. How do you define success?
I define success as the achievement of my personal goals and the fulfillment that comes from making a positive impact on the lives of others.

True success begins with setting clear goals and working diligently toward them. It involves continuously learning, growing, and challenging myself to reach new heights. Success is about pushing beyond my comfort zone, embracing failure as a learning opportunity, and persevering even when faced with obstacles.

However, success is not solely about personal achievements. It’s about the impact I have on the world around me. I find true fulfillment in using my skills, talents, and resources to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Whether it’s through volunteering, lending a helping hand to those in need, or creating initiatives that address societal challenges, I strive to leave a lasting, positive impact.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
The Pala Family

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