Youngest Advocate for AIDS Orphans Helps Raise $28,000

On World AIDS Day, sixth grader Austin Gutwein and 1,000 friends shot basketballs to raise money for African children orphaned by the disease.

Over 1,000 kids in four states – some as young as five years old – shot basketballs and raised nearly $28,000 to care for 100 orphan children through World Vision’s Hope initiative.

“When I see pictures, I cry,” said 11-year-old Austin. “I see kids crying out, and that just makes me cry. That just tears my heart because I don’t know, what if I lost my parents. If you really think about that, I think that we could all break down and cry because my parents are my hope. But to think that they don’t have their parents… They are on their own.”

“I know that kids can help kids to make a difference,” he added.

Four years ago, Austin and his 10-year-old sister, Brittany, sponsored two children with their parents’ help. In 2004, Austin founded Hoops of Hope in Phoenix, Ariz. to raise money for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. That year, Austin shot 2,057 free throws to shed light on the 2057 children orphaned in a single school day. He raised nearly $3,000 alone.

Unsatisfied with raising money himself, he expanded the vision to include 1,000 kids this year.

“I realized in my head that, ‘Hey, I didn’t just want myself to do it any more alone.’ I decided to aim high and try to get 1,000 kids. My whole thing is that if you don’t dream big, you won’t be big,” he said. “I’m not out there to be big; I’m out there to touch the lives of others.”

“Austin is already praying for 10,000 kids to join him next year,” wrote his father, Daniel Gutwein, after Thursday’s event.

Austin said the inspiration came from God, and he felt called. He said he never dreamed that he would make such a difference, but the project has allowed him to influence both younger children and adults for good.

“It’s just a really cool thing that God’s used. Now I have younger kids, like at five years old. I mean obviously we have to lower the hoops for them,” he said, “but, you know it’s cool to think that a five-year-old is doing something to make a difference in the lives of others.”

“That’s the thing that adults can go and look down and say, ‘Wow, that’s cool,’” he said. “I think that’ll inspire a whole lot of adults.”

His father Daniel Gutwein, 36, said Austin’s passion and fearless compassion has changed the community and changed him.

“So many times you look at kids, and you put them in a box,” he said. “I think what’s he’s done in my life is he’s opened my eyes to see God uses kids and uses them more than adults even.”

Others in the community look at him and think, “Children can change the world,” Gutwein added.

“They don’t have to wait till they’re 21 and out of college. It’s the character of their heart that can change the world.”