LAKEWOOD RANCH — Ken Sommers was always more Peace Corps than politics.
He was active in both, eventually ditching a post as budget analyst for Mitt Romney to become a teacher. But, it was his post-college experience in the Peace Corps that molded the grassroots spirit that guides Sommers’ teaching — and his recent side hobby.
Sommers, a teacher and athletics coach at The Out-of-Door Academy in Lakewood Ranch, has unveiled a grant program to fund sports-related nonprofits through his 1-year-old foundation, Games 4 Good.
Games 4 Good announced a request for proposals in late December, with the goal to fund innovative ideas from registered 501(c)(3) organizations in third-world countries and underserved areas in the United States that use sports to produce positive life changes.
“Sports are important for their literal benefits — such as good health and the ability to blow off steam — but they also can level the playing field and provide access to opportunity,” Sommers said.
People from a vast networking base Sommers built in Boston — where he was born and worked previously — funded the grants of between $5,000 and $10,000 each. The grants, totaling up to $70,000, will be dispersed to nonprofits with an annual budgets of less than $250,000.
Games 4 Good will collect applications until March 15. A four-person board that includes Sommers and Tim Brewer, the director of student activities at ODA, will assess the proposals and make grant decisions.
On Jan. 11, Sommers revealed a pilot round of the grant program in the form of a partnership with Visible Men Academy, a Bradenton charter school for male students in kindergarten through second grade.
The school, which focuses on low-income students, plans to begin a sports-based after-school program three days per week. The program, to begin this month, calls for innovative sports programs such as karate, as well as things such as healthy eating tips and health screenings.
“We’re looking for good ideas, but also visionary people,” Sommers said. “Neal Phillips (founder of Visible Men) is a visionary guy. The school puts an enormous stress on social character.”
Games 4 Good builds off Sommers’ first formative experience in community development.
He is a board chairman for an organization that runs soccer programs in Haiti, called GOALS Haiti.
The 2010 earthquake in Haiti inspired Sommers to find a new project — and a way to spend empty summers as a teacher.
Sommers spent five years in politics before becoming a teacher. This is his sixth year at ODA.
After the earthquake, Sommers visited Haiti and raised money for an orphanage and connected with non-government organizations such as UNICEF and the Red Cross.
He came across a rural fishing village with towering sugar cane and children playing soccer.
Sommers, who played offensive line for the Division III football program at Hamilton College in New York, helped feed the soccer players their only warm meal of the day and clean beaches littered with trash.
He learned that a pilot program for GOALS Haiti, then in its infancy, was pushing soccer in rural villages, including this one, as a way to form good habits.
Sommers, who holds a masters degree from Georgetown, took his business acumen and turned GOALS Haiti into a 501(c)(3).
“I became inspired to find groups similar to GOALS and let them shine,” Sommers said. “There are lot of great ideas out there without access to funding.”
Sommers studied other nonprofits and determined he wanted his own to be broader in scope.
“We have a venture capital approach to funding,” Sommers said.
Sommers has already received grant applications from as far away as Kenya, Ghana and Zimbabwe.
Games 4 Good is set up as a charitable gift fund, with a group of donors who give money to it. That money is then distributed to the nonprofits the foundation selects.
Sommers believes his foundation can avoid mismanagement and provide unbiased opportunity.
“Today’s focus on being a pro or college athlete is out of whack,” Sommers said. “I was once an offensive lineman. That’s the worst job in sports. But sports teach you that if you prepare and stay disciplined, you can reach the top.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].