With a height of 6’5”, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that 17-year-old Miami native Nikolas Aixala loves playing basketball. What was unexpected, however, is how playing his favorite sport turned him into a developing philanthropist.
Along with his friend Connor Sazant, having both spent countless hours of their summers playing and practicing in the Gibson Park gym, located in the section of Miami known as Historic Overtown, wanted to help the area’s basketball program. How? Starting with footwear. “We have come to appreciate the impact Gibson Park has had in our formation. We would like to give back to the community that has given so much to us. We want to raise monies to purchase basketball shoes for the young kids, who spend their after-school hours in the gym. There is no better way to keep these less fortunate young athletes engaged in sports than providing them with an opportunity for a better future”, the pair write on their website.
The “aha moment” came to Nikolas gradually, thanks to his own new kicks. “Whenever I get new shoes, the first thing that comes to my mind is that I want to get on the court and play. That feeling of having new shoes, makes you feel good and that mentality affects the game. When you look good, you feel good, you play good. And the more you are on the court, the better you get. An incentive for staring this is that if I got those kids new shoes, I am helping become better players and athletes”, Nikolas asserts.
Of course, dealing with shoes and sizing presents a few hurdles. “I would say that the biggest challenge we faced was making sure that we got the right shoe size for each kid. Children grow very fast, and we wanted to make sure we got them shoes that would last them for a good amount of time.”
His mother Brigitte (above), a Key Biscayne realtor, proudly commented: “Not because he is my son, but Nikolas has the biggest heart. This is a wonderful and beautiful cause and especially that Nikolas and his friend Connor are the ones that started this. Giving back to the community is huge for kids their age.”
Indeed, there has been a very positive and welcome rise in pursuing causes and philanthropic pursuits among those from Generation Z, demonstrated by 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg, and 15-year-old Theodora Von Liechenstein who founded the Green Teen Team Foundation, among others.
“The day we gave out 80 pairs of shoes, the feeling of gratification was surreal.”
In the future, Nikolas and Connor hope to expand into other types of sports footwear for a variety of budding athletes. “Initially because I am a basketball player and that is my passion, I started with the idea of getting all the kids a new pair of basketball shoes. I quickly came to realize that the majority of kids that spend their time at this park mainly play football, another sport that I truly enjoy watching. I have been speaking with the coaches and it would mean the world to them and to me if we could help out all the kids. The day we gave out 80 pairs of shoes, the feeling of gratification was surreal. Our new goal is to be able to buy 90 pairs of football cleats. I will continue to work hard to raise more money in order to fulfil our mission.”
Carmen, who donated to the cause, always says that we should never donate anonymously or in secrecy, and that’s it’s our responsibility to inspire others to contribute, whatever the amount. Hearing about Kicks For Kids tugged at my own heartstrings as it brought me back to 1996. The movie Michael Jordan movie Space Jam had just come out, and so had these black Nike Air Jordans that everyone in school had to have. I was no serious ball player, but I also remember the feeling of confidence and completeness that comes with that new pair sneakers. Whether functional or aspirational, articles of clothes can definitely help us become better players, and in many ways, simply better selves. And so, I donated.
More about Kicks For Kids Gibson here.