Monte Vista High senior Kyle Weisse was named one of 10 Huggable Heroes in a national community service recognition program. Sponsored by Build-A-Bear Workshop, the program recognizes "young leaders… for helping make their communities and the world a better place."
At age 13, Kyle co-founded FUNDaFIELD.org, which works with kids in the United States to raise money to help build soccer fields for underprivileged kids in Africa. So far, FUNDaFIELD has raised more than $138,000, constructed eight soccer fields in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda and held four soccer tournaments, as well as delivered uniforms, soccer balls and other necessary supplies.
In July, Kyle will spend two days at the Build-A-Bear Workshop World Bearquarters in St. Louis where he will be honored along with the other nine 2011 Huggable Heroes.
"I think a lot of times people are sensitive about glorifying community service. It really is hours upon hours of hard work and often people don't see it that way," Kyle said. "We're very excited to be named as a semifinalist because most people don't recognize community service in that sort of way."
After returning from the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Kyle and his brother Garrett were so impressed by the dedication of fans from Angola that they told their parents they wanted to build soccer fields in Africa. As a result of that trip, the brothers developed FUNDaFIELD and now have 32 members in middle and high schools as well as in college.
"We really promote youth getting involved in service. We have 12-year-old girls out there raising money. If we get them out there at a young age then they'll get in that mindset," Kyle said.
In order to stay a member of the organization, students need to hold two fundraisers a year and volunteer for 25 hours at other people's fundraisers. Kyle said younger members will usually hold bake sales or dog washes; one member even held a ping pong competition.
In June, Kyle and other FUNDaFIELD members from Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley high schools will travel to Uganda for two weeks to hold tournaments and look at possible locations for fields. These trips enlighten people that wouldn't otherwise be exposed to Africa and show them the power of sports, Kyle said.
Kyle estimates that at least 3,000 people regularly use the organization's fields, a number which can swell during tournaments. But FUNDaFIELD is looking beyond sports to small business development.
"What we're really promoting is people starting businesses, such as small chipati stands at tournaments. The soccer field allows all these people to come together and build relationships that help strengthen the community."
As a Huggable Hero, he will receive $10,000 -- a $7,500 educational scholarship and $2,500 to donate to the charity of his choice. While the scholarship will be put toward studying business or economics at the University of Southern California, UCLA or Claremont Mckenna College, Kyle said he will put $2,500 toward funding the group's ninth field project.
"We have a lot of people that have been writing us, the word has been spreading, and we want to start raising funds to continue building fields," Kyle said. "We love our fundraisers but it's not the fastest way; we're very grassroots and contests like these go a long way."
Nominations for this year's Huggable Heroes program were accepted from January 14 through February 28 and nearly 1,200 applications were received. Collectively, the 10 winners have built 18 homes across the country, 31 wells in rural India, eight soccer fields and four libraries in Africa. Winners have also founded or co-founded organizations that "improve the quality of education in the United States and developing nations and provide comfort items, gifts and funds."
For more information on FUNDaFIELD, check out Views magazine.