My name is Adam McKay, and I’m the founder of Helping Hoops. This is our story.
To break down barriers and provide children and young people with opportunities to participate in after-school activities. This was the simple idea that inspired me to embark on a journey that would eventually lead to the organisation we now know as Helping Hoops in 2009. At the time, I assumed there was a basketball charity out there already in Melbourne, running free programs for underprivileged kids. I wanted to find such an organisation and volunteer.
As it turns out, it didn’t exist.
This surprised me. Of course, there were inclusion programs within established basketball clubs and associations, but there wasn’t a group that had this aim as its sole focus—participation over competition, relationships over performance, cultivating social skills, creating a sense of community in an increasingly diverse Melbourne, and eliminating barriers of cost and transport so that “everyone’s game” truly is a game for all.
So, being equal parts entrepreneurial and naïve, I decided to start my own organisation. I had no ambition for Helping Hoops to become what it is today, but I did want to do something that hadn’t been done before.
The first ever Helping Hoops session, however… let’s just say it was a very inauspicious event.
We had around 10 participants registered, a coach in place, a venue booked, basketballs ready… everything was set. I remember to this day going up to the gymnasium, which was part of a university, and noting, to my horror, that the basketball court had been converted into a computer lab due to renovations.
I was the one who had to explain to the kids as they walked into the gymnasium that the program would not run. I felt like a failure. Helping Hoops did not have a reputation or years of wins to fall back on. We hadn’t even run a session. Leaving the venue that night was a humbling experience; questions running through my mind whether I was truly up to this task.
Fortunately, the urge to give up didn’t last long. Phone calls to the venue and understanding parents set things back on track. Helping Hoops would not end before it began. We would try again.
October 5, 2010 was the date of our first official session, which fortunately ran a lot smoother than the false start of the previous week. From there, we found our rhythm and slowly built an identity that was a foundation for yearsto come. Heading into 2011, we expanded to three programs—one for young people from a migrant and refugee background in Melbourne’s west, and another for children with special needs. The next year saw us grow yet again, this time to Fitzroy’s public housing estate, and in Dandenong.
2012 was a historic year for Helping Hoops as we launched our first annual 24 Hour Charity Shootout. The event, which sees people register to shoot as many free throws as they can in 15 minutes while raising money for Helping Hoops in the lead up, was borne out of necessity at a time where our charity was experiencing some major financial challenges. The inaugural Charity Shootout was put together in only four weeks, which gives a glimpse of where we were at and the urgency around fundraising. Despite being a humble event, we knew immediately that the format was something we could build on. The Charity Shootout has grown each and every year, both in terms of fundraising and what it means to us and the wider basketball community.
Growing—and introducing systems and structure to aid this growth—was the theme throughout 2013 and 2014. The Helping Hoops brand began to establish a foothold thanks to the efforts of our coaches and the dozens of volunteers who assisted them every week. We began to expand our partnerships off the court, and were beginning to enter an exciting new phase. With support building throughout the wider community, and the efforts of our committee, we were becoming more strategic, efficient and effective as an organisation.
We were growing up. We were becoming a resilient organisation built for sustained success. Storytelling through digital platforms allowed us to share this success with the public, for them to see what Helping Hoops was doing on a weekly basis—what we were all about.
By the end of 2017, we had built our program portfolio to 10. Helping Hoops now had a sizeable presence in inner-city public housing estates, such as Fitzroy, Richmond, North Melbourne and Prahran, had continued to deliver our programs for special needs across two locations, and had spread to suburban communities such as Werribee and Dandenong.
We also acknowledged that our participants were growing up, and many no longer wanted to play with the younger kids anymore. This saw the design of the Future tier of programs which were introduced to continue the relationship we enjoyed with children and young people well into their teenage years, and provide them with an experience more targeted to their needs. Future began as just one program in 2017, but has now expanded to multiple locations, and will only increase going forward as we strive to cater to the demands of our community.
We continue to expand locations, reaching 12 in 2019, and with no plans to stop anytime soon.
A powerful and humbling realisation I’ve had recently is that Helping Hoops is now perhaps looked at as a leader in our field: an organisation that helps to break down barriers and provide children and young people with opportunities to participate in after-school activities. This was the goal I set a decade ago when starting Helping Hoops in 2009.
As I look at where we stand now, in 2019, I am mindful that we’re entering into an entirely new phase of Helping Hoops. Ben Simmons and Nike recently joining us as major partners reflects the expectations we have set for ourselves—to step up to the global stage. Our programs may still only operate in Melbourne, Australia for now, however our mindset and standards are of a global nature. We want to take what we do and share it with even more communities going forward, in order to support the next generation. We want to work with people and organisations that can help us do this. We want to continue being pioneers of community building, inclusion, and youth empowerment. We want to continue to make a meaningful difference.
The story of Helping Hoops stops here, but is far from over…
Adam McKay stepped down as Executive Director in December 2019. Clinton Meehan is now the Executive Director of Helping Hoops.