Hallie Rodney, now 13, has played basketball since she was six. When she began to learn the sport with the Steve Nash Youth Basketball Program, Hallie was the only girl on the team. She took this in stride and now aspires to represent Canada at the Maccabiah Games in Israel in a few years.
But at the moment, despite her busy school life, playing competitive basketball and practising to reach those dreams, she also has room for charity. The Thornhill, Ont., teen is the brainchild behind Hoops Kids, a basketball tournament for students from grades 3 through 8 that raises money for Jewish causes.
The youth tournament, heading into its third year, began as Hallie’s bat mitzvah project. Hallie and her mother, Julie, looked online for a charity that merged two of her loves: basketball and Judaism. They found the Toronto-based Hoops (previously Hoops 4 Israel) for adults, and it was Hallie’s idea to make a sub-tournament for kids only.
“For charity, people will obviously donate. But if people actually get to participate in charity, I feel like it will be more engaging toward them,” Hallie told The CJN.
Hoops and Hoops Kids used to send donations to at-risk Ethiopian Jews in Bat Yam, Israel, but the fundraising focus shifted this year to local Jews who need financial help.
Through UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, funds are going to Jewish Family & Child to help limit the effects of poverty on more than 20,000 Jewish men, women and children. The funds will cover basic needs like food, clothing, housing and transportation, as well as items like beds and dental care.
Hallie’s road to becoming a Good Samaritan began when she was in Grade 6 and she represented her school at We Day, organized by the charity Free the Children. The daylong event focuses on charitable causes in the local, national and international community and helps young people learn to effect change.
“[We Day] really made me think about how people around the world aren’t as privileged as me,” she says. “I was thinking, maybe I can do something that will help a global cause.”
Hallie’s good example has since inspired her younger brother, 11-year-old Mitchell, to do some of his own charity work. He went around his neighbourhood asking for cozy winter clothes for his own personal cause, Warm Up with Mitchell. Mitchell brought the clothes he collected to Temple Har Zion, for the Out of the Cold program.
The idea to give back to the community was self-motivated, said their father, Jordan, who runs an HR consulting business with his wife. “Our philosophy is that leaders are not born,” he said. “You have to work hard to be a leader. It’s about equipping Hallie with the tools to demonstrate leadership skills at a young age to hopefully carry her through her life.”
Julie has similar praise for her daughter’s initiative and hopes that other kids learn by Hallie’s example. “It’s really important for parents to make sure that their kids get involved in charity,” Julie said. “You have to make it a priority.”
Organizing Hoops Kids is very much a family affair. Julie helps to market the event and spread awareness. Hallie’s grandfather, who was a gym teacher for 40 years, helps with operations. Her grandparents also fundraise before the event and on the day of Hoops Kids. Meanwhile, close friends of the family show up to be referees and timekeepers.
“[My parents] give us a lot of tips and ideas on what we can do,” Hallie said. “They help me organize it a lot. I don’t think I would really be able to do it by myself. They’re always there carrying all the boxes and everything, and I really look up to them because they support me a lot.”
Unlike the three-on-three tournament for adults, Hoops Kids is a round-robin competition. Since its inception in 2011, the fundraiser has raised nearly $7,000, but has also been on a different date than the adult event.
This year, Hoops Kids will be same day as Hoops – Sunday, Feb. 23. The event begins at 5 p.m. at the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto’s Kimel Family Education Centre in Vaughan, Ont., after the adult tournament finishes. The Rodneys said they hope this scheduling will bring in more money and participants.
Young volunteers can also start their own fundraising page this year, which could help spur bigger donations. In the past, kids only had to pay a small entrance fee. To participate, the youths can now register at https://hoopstoronto.com/kids.
Although Hallie is the leader of this initiative, she may pass it forward to her younger siblings, Mitchell and seven-year-old Layla, in the future. “I want to make this an annual thing,” Hallie said. “When I get too old, I will still organize it, but I won’t participate.”