Courts for Kids: Building places to gather & play

Vancouver-based nonprofit on pace to help build 25 sports courts this year throughout developing world

Courts 4 Kids

At first glance, a basketball or volleyball court may not seem like a life-changing venue, but in communities of the developing world, thanks to Courts for Kids, they can be exactly that.

A Vancouver-based nonprofit, Courts for Kids has been creating opportunities and building connections in the developing world since 2006. Each year, the organization takes groups of 20-25 volunteers on service trips where they work with communities to construct sports courts for kids to play on.

The nonprofit is made up of approximately five employees, including President Derek Nesland, a former college basketball player whose experience playing overseas led him to create the organization.

“A lot of our volunteers are from the Portland-Vancouver area, but we have volunteers from all over the country including New Orleans, Florida, Ohio, New York and Virginia,” he said.

Volunteers raise funds for their trip (for airfare as well as construction supplies), and depending on the location it can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $3,500 per volunteer.

Nesland said it would be easier for the nonprofit to do the work itself and create an Americanized court, but that’s not the Courts for Kids mission. During these trips, which are a week or more in length, participants work side by side with community members, learning what life is like in that location.

“We stay in these communities, often sleeping on a mat or mattress on the floor,” he said. “We don’t bus in from another area. It’s a total immersion experience. These groups work hard. It often gives volunteers an understanding of what manual labor is like, and what the difficulty and skill needed are like.”

The communities initiate the process and have ownership of the project, which is one of the biggest predictors of success, according to Nesland.

“If the community doesn’t buy in to the project, it may not succeed,” he said.

Communities determine what kind of court they want, and do a lot of prep work and fundraising to make the projects happen. Over the years, Nesland said he has seen groups do things like donate bags of cement, and even set up a toll on a public road to fund their project.

In some cases, courts have been built where marginalized groups live. Whether separated by religion, ethnicity or some other divide, they can become places where different groups come together.

“We build a soccer, basketball, badminton or volleyball court, and in some places the court is the flattest land around. They can become gathering places or areas where celebrations are held. We’ve seen a lot of cool ancillary uses,” Nesland said.

Since its founding, Courts for Kids has taken 1,598 volunteers on 86 different trips. Last year, the organization built 21 courts. This year, Nesland is projecting 25 courts.

“A lot of our projects are in Latin America, but communities in Africa and Southeast Asia have been trying to build courts as well,” he said.

The nonprofit’s most recent trip was to Bluefields, Nicaragua, and approximately 27 individuals are expected to go, including Nesland’s wife and their two sons.

To learn more about Courts for Kids, visit www.courtsforkds.org.

Courts for Kids
Founded 2006 www.courtsforkids.org

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