By John Sammon
Kim Ina founded a nonprofit, Sports for the World’s Children, that supplies gear to young athletes in need, and like the Olympic Games, acts as a goodwill ambassador linking people and communities together with a common bond—love of sports.
“The Olympics brings people together, and I feel we’re doing much the same thing,” Ina said. “We’re proud to say we have received endorsements, donations and grants from individuals and organizations including Kristi Yamaguchi (figure skater) and Major League Baseball. We collect new and used sports equipment and distribute it to children worldwide.”
The nonprofit, founded in 1997, gets requests for sports equipment from all over the country, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington, New York and more. Overseas the organization provides equipment in places as diverse as Nicaragua, Uganda and Mexico.
Ina said requests for sports equipment comes from high school leagues, churches, community organizations, and sometimes impoverished children on a street attempting to mimic a sport for which they have no equipment.
The donated equipment includes everything from team uniforms to balls, shin guards, helmets, and chest protectors. The nonprofit also sends volunteers to bring the sports equipment into the communities who request it.
“We sponsor cultural exchange trips with our volunteers and they pay their own way,” Ina said.
Once, on a fishing trip to Mexico, Ina ran into a softball umpire she had earlier known in San Francisco.
“We reconnected and he told me about these kids who had no equipment,” she said. “They were using a rock covered with tape to play baseball. I had known this umpire for many years in San Francisco and I had played in the Japanese American leagues as a young person. I always valued what playing on those teams taught me. I knew with all my sports contacts, I had access to equipment that could be helpful.”
Ina said from the beginning she never had to solicit donations because people who knew her or had heard about Sports for the World’s Children donated equipment freely without being asked.
Ina was born in San Francisco.
Her father, Kenneth Kiyoshi Ina, had been born in the Topaz Relocation Center, a concentration camp that along with a dozen of other camps scattered throughout the Southwest was built to imprison Japanese Americans suspected of potential disloyalty during World War II.
“My grandfather was held at the Tule Lake Segregation Center (Northern California),” Ina said. “But my mother (Kathleen) was born at a U.S. Army base in Oklahoma, because her father was serving in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) scanning letters and Japanese communications for the war effort.”
Later, her father attended San Francisco City College and worked for Pacific Bell for a number of years. The family lived in San Bruno and San Francisco where Ina grew up. She said her family members had not been particularly sports minded.
“My dad played some basketball, but I was not exposed to sports that much from my parents,” Ina said. “I started playing basketball as a child, mostly for the friendships I made. I really enjoyed the comradery and teamwork.”
Ina played on a team with a most unusual name, the Enchantees (means enchanted in French).
“The Japanese American leagues existed because back then there were not the opportunities for Japanese Americans to play that you see today,” she said.
Ina said sports taught her discipline and respect for others.
Attending South San Francisco High School and San Francisco State University, she studied broadcasting, a skill that would later serve her well as the producer of DVD films showing the work of her nonprofit in supplying sporting equipment.
Ina took an office management position with Stirfry Productions, a diversity training program based in Oakland designed to promote cultural understanding. The curriculum taught respect and racial tolerance for others of differing ethnicities. One of the organizations who took advantage of the program was the U.S. Army.
The company also produced a film titled The Color of Fear, about the corrosive effects of prejudice.
She eventually worked on films documenting the experiences of Japanese Americans imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II, one titled Children of the Camps, and another released in 2005, From a Silk Cocoon.
“Six people who had been imprisoned gave their experiences for the project,” Ina said. “I was associate producer (also research coordinator), and my Aunt Satsuki Ina, who had been at Tule Lake during the war, was the main force behind the project as executive producer. She also appears in the film working with survivors in a therapeutic exercise recounting their camp experiences.”
All this time Ina remained active in basketball.
“There was a league run out of the Community Cultural Center in San Francisco, an adult basketball association,” she said. “I played on a team called the San Francisco Drakes. Playing basketball helped keep me in shape.”
Ina said when a request for sports equipment is made, the nonprofit makes certain recipients know how to properly use the gear.
“If we decide to help and we don’t have the equipment, we’ll put out a call for it,” she said. “We can provide just about everything, but we also sponsor skills clinics. We don’t just put a baseball bat in a kid’s hand who doesn’t know how to use it and say, ‘here you go.’”
The program seeks to help establish self-sustaining sports leagues that can provide sports for future generations. This involves mobilizing community and business leaders.
“An example and one of our greatest achievements came in Mexico,” Ina said. “We originally had 18 kids who lacked equipment playing baseball under a parent of one of the children.
Today those 18 kids have turned into 500 players aged 5 to 16 years old in an organized league and they have their own stadium with seats in La Paz.”
Major League Baseball provided a grant that was used to purchase six pitching machines for the children of La Paz.
Sports for the World’s Children has a six-person board of directors and anywhere from 10 to 40 serving nonpaid volunteers.
In addition to doing clinics and distributing sports equipment, volunteers with the organization have helped communities in need in other capacities. In Uganda, they served hungry people meals from a local church, and participated in constructing housing for residents.
“We take part in other services beyond sports,” Ina said.
She said the goodwill created by equipment donations and cultural exchange trips cannot be underestimated.
“Sports makes a statement that brings people together,” Ina said. “We hope the young athletes who receive the donated equipment will continue to develop sports in their own communities.”
People wishing to donate or become involved may go to www.swcfoundation.org, or email Ina at [email protected].