Sporting Youth Philanthropy

05/11/2016 05:35 pm ET

We all want our children to develop healthy habits and a strong sense of empathy and community awareness. In fact, according to the National Institute for Health,only half of America’s youth meet basic physical activity standards.

As a racing driver, cyclist, and dad who is often mistaken for a skilled medical doctor… I want children to discover the joys and benefits of an active lifestyle and civic engagement. That’s where Positive Tracks – a national youth development organization that helps young people get active and give back using the power of sports – comes into play. As a proud spokesperson for the organization, I had the opportunity to co-lead their annual Sweat For Good Summit, where kids turned their sweat into civic action, at Fenway Park in Boston recently. Not only does Positive Tracks teach children important fundraising and leadership skills, but they also provide matching funding, a very strong incentive.

Actor and Positive Tracks spokesperson Patrick Dempsey with Youth Ambassadors Jasper Meyer and Dana Giordano speak at a panel at Positive Tracks’ Sweat For Good Summit on Friday, May 6, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston. The two-day event celebrates youth getting active and giving back.

The Positive Tracks Sweat For Good movement is taking off across the country. To date, they have activated more than 40,000 youth and empowered them to turn 250,000 miles of energy into nearly $8,000,000 for causes that shape their communities and the world.

My involvement with the organization began six years ago when they partnered with the Dempsey Center. The Dempsey Center, based in Maine, is a leader in quality of life support for individuals and families impacted by cancer. We champion integrative approaches and empower through care. We believe in evidence-based approaches that involve patients, their medical teams, as well as their entire community of caregivers. We provide free services and need to raise funds to operate in a sustainable way.

We like to be unconventional and re-think old approaches. So the last thing we wanted to do was to host yet another black-tie gala fundraiser. Instead, our team engages our community in and around Lewiston, Maine – the local businesses, families, and children in our town – with our annual Dempsey Challenge, an annual multi-day cycling, running and walking event.

From the start, we’ve been very astounded by people of all ages who’ve participated and volunteered to make The Dempsey Challenge a giant success. When Positive Tracks joined us to collaborate with young people, we immediately saw our impact and engagement grow. One local school boasts a Positive Tracks Club that raises funds for The Dempsey Center all year long! Last year alone, 833 young Mainers (ages 23 and under) raised $201,000 dollars, which Positive Tracks and partners matched to $402,000 for The Dempsey Center. By the end of this year, our youth participants will raise nearly $1.8 million over six years of the partnership.

What makes sport and philanthropy a winning combination?

The persistence and team mindset required to practice a sport successfully is strikingly similar to the dedication required in philanthropy and social service. Solving any sort of problem requires leadership, careful goal-setting, and a whole lot of follow through. You need to rally a team of friends, family, and community members who feel the way you do to achieve success. Sometimes, the journey isn’t easy and you need to push through barriers, or rethink strategies in order to get to the finish line. But when you truly believe in something – so much that you sweat to support it – that pursuit becomes a meaningful and healthy part of your life.

Let young people lead the way

We are living through an extraordinary presidential election. I believe that youth organizers will outperform our elected officials. As parents, we see how children take the problems of the world to heart and work selflessly to find creative solutions. Children and teens can’t necessarily write big checks, pass laws, attend expensive fundraising banquets, or (for now) run large nonprofits and corporations – but they can rally their peers and use their media savvy, resourcefulness and creativity to build and lead grassroots momentum.

We had a blast at the Sweat For Good Summit and mobilized more next-generation youth advocates for the cause. We were particularly inspired by one energetic kid who bravely grabbed the microphone and announced, proudly, that he does not want to wait for adulthood to make a difference. He wants to make a difference today and work directly, passionately on an issue dear to his heart. That is when we understood the magic of Positive Tracks – an open-source platform that empowers the young to use their intelligence, leadership, and boundless energy to take direct action, today.  If the successes of these youth ambassadors are any indication, the 2032 Presidential election will field very strong leaders forged on the philanthropic sporting fields.

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post Contributors Blog.

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