Indian American teen Anuva Shandilya believes sports are transformative experiences.

“I’ve been running my entire life,” Shandilya, a senior at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois, told India-West. “Track has taught me to be fearless, more confident, and to be unafraid of putting myself in challenging situations,” she said, adding that sports have also contributed to her mental well-being.

Shandilya was born in Denmark, and lived in Canada and England before her family settled in the U.S. The young woman has also travelled in 24 countries, which, she said, has lent her perspective on the importance of play in children’s lives.

“I’ve seen kids who live in shacks, and have nothing, but they’re still making the best of it, kicking around a deflated soccer ball,” she said.

Three years ago, as a high school freshman, Shandilya founded the non-profit organization Chance For Sports, with the aim of distributing gently-used sports equipment to low-income children in the developing world, including India. “It seems unfair that there are so many kids in the world who can’t play sports because equipment is so expensive,” she said.

Shandilya and her younger brother, Daksh, now 13, started by knocking on doors in their neighborhood, asking people if they had used sports equipment. That year, Shandilya founded a chapter of Chance For Sports in her high school, and then expanded it to her high school district. Three years later, through grassroots efforts, the organization has 70 volunteers who have distributed 3,500 pieces of used sports equipment to 1,000 children in India, Nepal, Mexico, and the Sudan. Chance For Sports has also garnered 501 (c) 3 non-profit status.

The donations range from bicycles and electric scooters to tennis balls.

During the summer, volunteers comb neighborhoods, giving the organization’s “elevator pitch,” to collect equipment. Chance For Sports also has collection boxes. And — in an innovative move — volunteers stand outside the store Play it Again,” which buys used sports equipment, and collects equipment the store rejects.

To distribute the sporting goods, Chance For Sports partners with in-country organizations focusing on children. Shandilya’s parents, Pooja and Pankaj, have also funded distribution.

Chance For Sports has also distributed to organizations supporting low-income children in the U.S.

Mary Ann Pilet, volunteer relations coordinator for the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls in Illinois, wrote a letter to Shandilya in 2016. “Receiving gifts like sports equipment is important to our organization for two reasons: It provides young people with the items they need that are often not available in their own homes, and it allows them to see that others care about them as much as we do,” wrote Pilet.

“We are ever grateful for good, compassionate people like you, your family and non-profit organization, Chance for Sports, who stand with us as we provide our kids the things they need most — safety, expert care, healing, and opportunities for a good education,” she wrote.

In June, Shandilya hand-delivered 30 soccer balls and badminton rackets to SOS Children’s Villages, a school in Faridabad, Haryana. While she was there, a school administrator called out some young women to speak with her. “One girl told me she loved playing badminton. It made me so proud,” Shandilya told India-West.

“Children see there’s no limit to what you can do. You just need a little courage and a lot of love,” the teenager added.

The young social innovator said she hopes to break through the “blatant sexism” in sports, especially in the developing world, where cultural restraints prevent girls and women from playing and competing.

“Sports empowers women in a way that books and art might not. It builds confidence and breaks down barriers,” Shandilya asserted to India-West.

Chance For Sports will be hosting a fundraiser Aug. 11, 11-3 p.m. at Knoch Knolls Park in Naperville. Tickets are $5 for those contributing sports equipment, and $7 otherwise.

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