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Changing the Game for Young Athletes

Graduating Student’s Nonprofit Redistributes Sports Gear to Children in Need Around the World

By Annie Krakower

Sara gives cleats to four recipients

Sara Blau ’24 (second from left) gives donated cleats to recipients from the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda. Her nonprofit, Game Changers, has distributed more than 100,000 pieces of sports equipment to children in need around the world.

Photos courtesy of Sara Blau

When Sara Blau ’24 visited Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda during winter break last year, she was struck by the sight of young soccer players kicking a beat-up ball wearing flip-flops or even barefoot. An athlete herself, she knew the talented young teams—like many others worldwide—could just use an assist to reach their goals.

Those East African athletes would be just some of the thousands to benefit from Game Changers, a nonprofit that redistributes donated sports equipment to children in need. Founded by Blau as a high school sophomore, the organization has grown during her time at the University of Maryland, contributing more than 100,000 pieces of equipment worth $2.5 million to 138 partner groups in 14 countries.

“Seeing these experiences firsthand showed me the impact that donating a brand-new set of uniforms and new soccer balls has on a program,” she said. “It really does create a complete experience for these children.”

Blau, a business management major and College Park Scholar, grew up on Long Island playing everything from soccer and basketball to gymnastics and ice skating. But as a teen, she realized that not all kids her age had those same opportunities. Sports equipment costs quickly add up, she said, noting that families spend an average of $883 per year on just one child’s primary sport.

“I knew I wanted to get involved and give back to my community,” she said.

That started with inviting around 30 friends and family members to meet at a local tennis facility for a day of food, drinks and sport, and asking attendees to bring any athletic equipment that they no longer needed. From that 2016 event alone, Blau collected more than 200 balls, rackets, cleats and more.

children playing soccer
Children in Nairobi play with donated soccer gear.

The success inspired her to form Game Changers as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, develop a website and start recruiting donors and recipients. Today, the organization invites its more than 120 volunteers to access an online database to connect with nearby partners, which range from a recreation program for kids with disabilities in New York to a youth fitness group in Nicaragua to a refugee camp in Jordan. Then, the volunteers can set up an equipment drive, where community members donate new or lightly used items, and coordinate gear pickup or drop-off with the partner organization of their choosing.

Such donations help the organizations continue to provide positive outlets for kids, said Nick Odhiambo, regional coordinator of Sports Connect Academy, which connects young people in Kenya through soccer.

“She donated some sports equipment and funds to help us expand our project and reach more kids,” said Odhiambo, who helped coordinate Blau’s winter visit. “She also shared her story and inspired our kids to dream big and work hard.”

Now with a team of six and a board of directors, as well as chapters in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, Game Changers received a boost thanks to Blau’s access to both the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship and the Do Good Institute at UMD. She participated in the 2022 “Shark Tank”-style Pitch Dingman Competition and honed her pitch in a New Ventures class, and she was a Do Good Accelerator fellow this past year, receiving a stipend, coaching and space to develop her project. She was also a finalist in the 2024 Do Good Challenge and earned $5,000 from the new Do Good Campus Fund, which will help Blau create a first-of-its-kind sports equipment marketplace app. That will allow donors to post photos and descriptions of the gear they wish to donate, a la eBay or Craigslist, so that partner organizations can easily scroll through and select what they need.

“What amazed me is the amount of resources—both financial and also just through mentorships and courses here at Maryland—that I’ve been able to take advantage of to grow the organization,” she said.

Now, as she graduates next week with a job lined up at Citibank in New York, she plans to also continue operating Game Changers and expand the nonprofit’s reach.

“Our goal is to try to get sports equipment into the hands of every kid who wants to play,” she said.



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