The origins of Hoops For Hope date back to 1992 when founder Jim Arnold took his son Rory for a visit to Sullivan Park in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Unsettled by the decaying state of the park, which included a rusted playground and dangerously unkept basketball courts in a rough neighborhood of a struggling city, Rory asked his dad to fix it. Arnold, an accomplished former athlete and coach who had attended Harvard Divinity School, set out to rehabilitate Sullivan Park.
By the following year, the initial goal to provide the community with a safe recreational space expanded to also offering jobs and job training for youths at risk centered around a competitive basketball program for youths across the region. Arnold coined the project Hoops For Hope. Joined by his friends Camen Scarpa and John Paganetti, he began fundraising for the project and in 1993, officially launched the Hoops For Hope High School Summer Basketball League. That year, 15 varsity high school basketball teams and 8 junior varsity teams from Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire gathered for the tournament at Sullivan Park.
On May 2, 1993, The Boston Globe trumpeted all the efforts that had gone into the court restoration and league launch under the headline “Hoops For Hope means more fun for youth: Caring adults fixing Sullivan Park courts.” Local Coach Art Yancy of Greater Lawrence Tech called the program “a Godsend.” Hoops for Hope also commissioned a uniformed police detail to be present for all games, serving as a great comfort to the families living in the nearby Stadium Court Housing Projects. Sullivan Park easily became one of the safest places to be in Lawrence on game nights.
Led by Program Director Melvin Berger, the league quickly became a huge success. Lawrence youth staffed all of the games through a federally subsidized Summer Youth and Training Program. They cleaned the courts, manned the clocks, kept the score, and rooted on their local heroes. An incredible level of mutual respect was established between the organization and the community. In the history of the program, outside at night in the projects, there has never been an incident of crime or violence.
By the third year, Hoops For Hope had college basketball players volunteering to mentor players and crew, providing role models to emphasize education and athletics as a vehicle for opportunity and personal development.
With Sullivan Park completely revitalized, Hoops For Hope needed an indoor facility to call home for rainy nights. In 1999, in conjunction with the Lawrence Housing Authority, Hoops For Hope purchased the former Jewish Community Center building on Haverhill Street in Lawrence. The facility had been moribund for years, badly in need of boiler, plumbing, roof, electrical, and safety repairs. Much like the Sullivan Park project, Hoops For Hope renovated the building and opened it for the Summer Basketball League as well as other local athletic use.
23 years later, the Hoops For Hope Summer Basketball League continues to thrive each summer, drawing the best young athletes in the region competing at the highest level of competitions. Since the beginning, Hoops For Hope has served over 15,000 young people as well as adults in need.