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Shoot a free throw, help local charities and orphans in Africa.

On Thursday, hundreds of basketball enthusiasts who have enlisted sponsors' pledges will gather to shoot free throws during Hoops of Hope. The event is sponsored by USF's Student Global AIDS Campaign.

Organization president Jordan Markel said he first learned about Hoops of Hope while watching a TV presentation by its founder, Austin Gutwein.

"He was only 10 years old when he heard about all of these children suffering and being orphaned by AIDS, and he decided to do something about it," said Markel, a junior majoring in biology.

Gutwein went on to shoot 2,057 free throws on World AIDS Day 2004 - one shot for each child who would be orphaned that day. Many people sponsored Gutwein, who raised almost $3,000 through that effort alone.

Since then, thousands of people have participated in similar basketball shoot-a-thons, and Gutwein's group has collected more than $450,000. The funds are given to World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization, to help provide food, clothing, and shelter for those orphaned by AIDS as well as to a new school and a medical testing facility in Zambia, Africa.

The USF event is unique in that Gutwein, now 14, will be the evening's guest speaker.

It's especially energizing to have Gutwein speaking, said Jennifer Smith, the director of the United Methodist campus ministry at USF and one of the event's planners.

"You know we're going to have a lot of schoolchildren who will be participating as shooters, and I'm so excited that they'll have the chance to hear him," she said. "Letting the kids see someone their own age shows them that just because you're young doesn't mean you can't make a difference."

Smith saw the devastation AIDS causes when she visited South Africa last year.

Thirty percent of the children had only one living parent because the other parent had died from AIDS, while 70 percent were raising themselves because both parents had died from the disease.

"The kids have no family anymore," she said. "I want them to know that they matter in this world. They matter to me, and they matter to God."

In addition to the basketball shooting, the Hoops of Hope event will also include face painting, a silent auction, and an opportunity to interact with therapy dogs. The USF basketball team will be on hand to greet the participants and spectators. The shooters get free food provided by St. James Methodist Church in New Tampa.

The proceeds will be divided among Hoops of Hope, which gets 50 percent, with the rest shared evenly by local charities Cardiostart International and the Francis House.

"We wanted to make sure we included the local community so we could have a positive impact right here at home, too," Markel said.

The Hoops of Hope event will be held from 4 to 10 p.m. at the USF Recreational Center on E Fowler Avenue. Gutwein, of Phoenix, will speak at 6:30.

The deadline to sign up, either as a team or an individual shooter, is midnight Nov. 2. Sponsors may pledge money until midnight on the day of the event. For more information contact Markel at or visit

Sheryl Kay can be reached at or 813-230-8788.