The Challenge: Physical education and learning teamwork are so important for health and emotional well-being. Sadly, there are many kids who get no opportunity to experience this kind of education.
The Solution: Play It Forward.
The Teen Hero Who’s Making This World A Better Place: Emmi Eisner, of Encino, California. Emmi was just 11 years old when she started realizing how fortunate she was and how many kids around her didn’t have the same resources—especially at school. Emmi loved sports and always believed in the importance of physical activity for mind, body, and soul. She couldn’t believe there were kids in Los Angeles County without sports equipment. Sometimes there were no gym teachers either.
Emmi started Play It Forward (PIF) so all students could get a strong physical education. She invited schools to come up with a “wish list” of equipment they need, and PIF raised the money to fulfill those wishes. In the past four years, PIF has raised $80,000 in cash and in-kind donations of sporting goods. Emmi has led the charge, helping approximately 12,000 students in 20 different schools. She’s also gotten 50 teen volunteers on her winning team.
Emmi is currently a junior in high school, where she studies hard and is on a lot of sports teams. She is very thankful to the Helen Diller Family Foundation for awarding Play It Forward. Emmi won a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award for her inspiring work.
We asked her about what it took to get here.
What is your favorite sport to play?
Your favorite song?
“Remember the Name” by Fort Minor.
Your favorite subject in school?
Math, Physics, and Chemistry.
If there were an extra hour in your today, what would you do with it?
I would definitely spend it doing more PIF work. Between school sports, club sports, and four AP classes I never get as much time as I would like to spend working on PIF.
What was the field trip that you went on when you were 11 that sparked PIF?
When I was in sixth grade my school visited our partner school in Pacoima, a very bad-off area of LA. I remember my teacher telling us before we went that the kids we were meeting weren’t nearly as fortunate as us and didn’t have much. Two families often shared a garage as their house. This struck me because I was still young and not yet fully exposed to how fortunate I was growing up.
When we visited the school I noticed that at recess the kids didn’t really have anything to do. This was much different than what I was used to, which was having balls and facilities to play sports. Being an athlete I looked forward to recess and lunch every day because I could play whatever sport I wanted and have a great time with my friends. It struck me that the kids I had met in Pacoima had never had that experience.
What were some of the reactions you got from your first PIF distribution?
The first time I delivered equipment I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought I would just give the equipment to some administrators at the school and that would be that. However when I got to the school hundreds of kids were lined up on the black top chanting my name with banners thanking me and Play It Forward. There were kids running up to me and hugging me to say thank you and some even crying.
That was a huge moment for me because even though I was only 12 at the time, I realized what a difference I could make by using my own passion and dedication. That moment inspired me to continue Play It Forward, and it continues to inspire me today.
How do you raise this much money and get so many volunteers?
We raise money in a lot of different ways. We raise money based on a combination of events we run and people donating money. We hold a few smaller events every year run by Youth Advisors. A huge part of PIF is the idea of kids helping kids, so I have a bunch of friends and youth volunteers who run their own PIF events with my help. We call these volunteers Youth Advisors since they help run a lot of events but in more of an informal capacity than our adult Board of Directors. These smaller events typically raise $500-$2,000 and are a very important part of the youth leadership of PIF.
Additionally we do one or two bigger fundraisers each year. Two years ago it was a cocktail party to celebrate our website launch and official 501(c)3 status. This past year we held our first annual 5k run/walk, which raised over $20,000 and was huge part of us underwriting 10 schools this year. This is huge for us because we now have a fundraiser that we can repeat every year and as the event grows, so will PIF.
What’s the hardest part about doing this work?
Everything I do for PIF is incredibly worth it. That being said, not every part of the job is fun. It can get overwhelming sometimes with everything going on, being a high school student with extra classes and a multi-sport athlete, to also run a business. I also think that as any adult would agree, doing taxes really isn’t fun so sometimes the accounting aspect of it can get a little tedious.
What’s the most rewarding part of this work?
Getting to see the impact I have on the kids we help. When I see the smile on a kid’s face as I hand them a ball it is the most rewarding thing imaginable. It’s what makes all the hard work and late nights worth it.
Who’s your biggest hero and why?
Definitely my parents. As cheesy as it sounds, they actually are my heroes for showing me the passion they have for what they do and their ability to stand up for what they believe in.
What’s next for you and PIF?
For Play It Forward my goal is to keep growing the organization like we have been quickly growing over the past few years. Every year I set a very aggressive goal of how many schools we want to underwrite, that we may not be able to reach, and we exceed that goal. Eventually I want to expand PIF outside of LA to become a national organization. We will also be starting some new initiatives in school to even more effectively address the issue the schools we help are facing.
For me I’ll be going to college in a little less than two years. My goal is to play soccer in college and go to the East Coast for a different experience. I’ll continue to be active in Play It Forward when I go to college, but I also have a close friend who has been involved in PIF from the start, who will be starting high school when I go to college, who will take over some of the day-to-day operations.
Anything else you’d like to say about PIF or your Tikkun Olam award?
Just that I’m grateful for this award because it will further Play It Forward’s impact on the kids who need it most and my own education. Feel free to visit www.wecanplayitforward.org for more info especially if interested in seeing the equipment grant application process.
This post is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit www.dillerteenawards.org