Although he doesn’t play basketball, John Labbate, a junior at North Shore High School, stepped up from the sidelines to help organize this year’s Teens Gotta Believe Tournament, an annual three-on-three basketball fundraiser that benefits foster youth on Long Island.
The event was founded in 2016 by former student Ryan O’Day, who was inspired to raise money and awareness for foster youth after reading “Etched in Sand.” The memoir by New York Times bestselling author Regina Calcaterra depicts her history of abuse, homelessness and foster care as a child in Suffolk County.
One hundred percent of the proceeds from the tournament are donated to You Gotta Believe, a non-profit organization that assists older youth in foster care to find permanent, adoptive families before they age out.
“Ryan offered me the opportunity to continue the event after he graduated, and I said yes immediately,” Labbate said. “I’m excited to take it on.”
Labbate, 16, is working alongside fellow high school juniors Jack Rosencrans and Matthew Saltzman to host this year’s tournament. The three students said that before the tournament, they were unaware that kids in foster care were living right under their noses. “I was really shocked to see that many kids in the foster care system that are my age live within 20 minutes of me,” Labbate said. “I had no idea of any of this.”
He believes that since North Shore is considered to be one of the wealthier areas on Long Island, that the community may not be fully aware of the situation as well. “It’s not because people are ignorant,” he said. “In this immediate area you don’t see these kids who are impoverished or are in the foster care system, and it’s extremely important to bring the event to this specific community and make people aware.”
Not only does the tournament raise money for You Gotta Believe, but it has also brought new people to the organization to get licensed as foster parents, said Mary T. Keane.
“The event has helped spread the word about the need to help youth in foster care find a family to give them support, and inspired people to realize they too can help,” said Keane, who is You Gotta Believe’s executive director. “These young men are amazing, and an inspiration to me about our youth today.”
A goal for this year’s tournament, Labbate said, is to reach out to places and people in the community that have not participated in previous years. “Helping kids in foster care just gives you a warm feeling, and a feeling of hope that it doesn’t have to stop there,” he said. “You can do so much more after to benefit these kids and give them the life they deserve.”
Sometimes considering the situation from a foster child’s point of view is all that is needed to decide to become involved. “Think of your children if you weren’t around,” Labbate said. “Imagine seeing your kid go through ridiculous struggles they shouldn’t have to go through,” he said.
Teams of three can register to play in the tournament at www.teensgottabelieve.org.