Point Guard Aidas Kavaliauskas ’20 volunteers to empower Zimbabwean youth as a basketball mentor through the non-profit Hoops 4 Hope.

Point Guard Aidas Kavaliauskas ’20 volunteers to empower Zimbabwean youth as a basketball mentor through the non-profit Hoops 4 Hope.

Fairfield’s emphasis on service has had an acknowledged effect on Aidas Kavaliauskas ’20, a junior point guard for the Fairfield University men’s basketball team. His desire to give back to the community – global community in this instance – led Kavaliauskas to the African country of Zimbabwe this summer, a long way from his native Lithuania.

Kavaliauskas took part in Hoops 4 Hope (H4H), a global organization whose stated mission is to give children and young adults in southern Africa the tools needed to “face the many challenges” of growing up in disadvantaged communities. H4H collaborates with other organizations, such as the Zimbabwe Ministry of Sport, Education and Culture, to “learn and share best practices with other cultures across the world.” Established in 1995, H4H is funded through donations and grants from individuals, foundations, and companies.

Kavaliauskas, who averaged 5.4 points and 4.8 assists a game during the Stags’ 2017-18 campaign, served as a Hoops 4 Hope mentor, teaching youngsters basketball while also helping them develop skills to stay healthy and excel in both the game and in life. “This is something our program strongly believes in,” he said.

When asked why he volunteered to spend part of his summer in Africa, the 6’2″ guard was quick to point out his team’s tradition of using basketball as a platform for social good. “Something that sticks out to me is our charity exhibition game against Hofstra in Alumni Hall,” he remembered. That fall 2017 game raised money for hurricane relief efforts in Houston – home of teammate Jerome Segura ’21, and Puerto Rico – home of teammate Jesus Cruz ’21. Of helping those directly affected by the natural disasters, Kavaliauskas said, “We just wanted to do our part.”

Also meaningful for Kavaliauskas was the relationship the team developed with middle school children at the Wakeman Boys and Girls Club in Bridgeport, early in 2018. “We visited once a week to coach basketball and engage in other activities. Using our platform to make people’s lives better is always something we look to do.”

“Since I was a kid, there were so many people who helped me become both a better person and a better basketball player,” he continued. “That drove me to help others and give back. Whenever I asked the people who helped me how I could return the favor for their acts of kindness, they all said, ‘Maybe one day you will be able to give something to other people.’ That really resonated with me.”

Basketball is a wonderful game and I strongly believe it has the power to transform lives for the better.

Mark Crandall, founder and executive director of Hoops 4 Hope, said of Kavaliauskas, “Having Aidas visit to meet the girls and boys in our programs and share his skills was extremely inspiring – not only on the court but in his journey as an athlete from a developing country who is playing in the NCAA D1 program.”

Crandall said H4H runs programs after school, on weekends, and at holiday camps for more than 60 schools in Zimbabwe. He felt Kavaliauskas’ stay at the H4H center in Harare helped build cooperation, awareness, and sustainability for the organization.

Men’s basketball coach Sydney Johnson called Kavaliauskas’ visit to Zimbabwe evidence of his player’s “growing passion to become an advocate for underserved communities.”

“Aidas continues to grow as a player and person at Fairfield,” Johnson said. “I have no doubt that upon graduation he will exemplify the values, diversity, and excellence within our basketball program.”

That program’s 2017-18 roster included players from eight countries in addition to the U.S. and Puerto Rico. “It’s educational to interact with people from different nationalities and cultures on a daily basis,” Kavaliauskas observed. “Our team is extremely diverse – we like to joke it’s a microcosm of the United Nations.”

“If I had another chance to go through the college selection process again, I would choose Fairfield every time,” Kavaliauskas continued. “Basketball is a wonderful game and I strongly believe it has the power to transform lives for the better.”