For Caleb Schmidt, the new ZeroZero Foundation grew out of “two C’s: circumstance and conviction.”
“I work for a sports marketing company in Birmingham and 2020 was a difficult year for us,” said Schmidt. “We lost between 12 and 15 events from March 2020 to the beginning of 2021, so I had something I don’t usually have – the gift of time. That’s the circumstance.”
Schmidt said the conviction was based on his feeling that sports could mean more than scoring points and winning games.
“I have this deep-down belief that there’s something unique, mysterious and powerful about sports,” he said. “I had the conviction that I need to use that passion for the benefit of the community. That was in the summer of 2020 when I felt the world was falling apart, not only with COVID-19 but also with the protests calling for social reckoning.”
Schmidt pulled together a group of community and business leaders for a brainstorming session to find a way to use sports to help others.
“We came to a very unsettling reality – the unspoken narrative that for any child who comes from a less fortunate background, their only real hope of having a career in sports is by playing sports,” he said. “If they want a career in sports, kids have to be the best of the best and most won’t be. We’re essentially leaving an entire generation of children without hope.”
Their solution: the ZeroZero Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at introducing less fortunate children and teens in the Birmingham area to the diverse opportunities available in the sports world, thus creating a level playing field for all young people, no matter their background.
ZeroZero’s goal is to introduce children to sports and the career opportunities surrounding the business, and provide educational opportunities, experiences and internships to them over a period of years, thus preparing them for their future.
By developing and maintaining long-term relationships with youths, the organization aims to help them discover realistic career paths that join their passion for sports with their academic aptitude and extracurricular interests. It works to help them see that excelling in the field of sports goes well beyond becoming a star athlete on TV, said Schmidt, president and founder of ZeroZero and vice president of sponsorships at Knight Eady, a sports-focused creative agency based in Birmingham.
If all kids can start with the score at zero, Schmidt explained, it creates an equitable playing field and an opportunity for everyone to win.
“Because of where I am in life, my kids are going to grow up knowing that there are a lot of opportunities for them,” Schmidt said. “Unfortunately, inner-city kids don’t have as many opportunities, or don’t have as much awareness around the career paths available to them. We want to put them in a position to know some of the ‘right people.’ We want to be a bridge between the kids and the types of companies and employers that they may want to work for one day.”
The Alabama Power Foundation is among the organizations supporting the ZeroZero Foundation.
“We see great potential in the work of the ZeroZero Foundation to expand knowledge and create opportunities for young people who don’t have the advantages that many other children have,” said Margaret White, Community Initiatives manager with Alabama Power’s Charitable Giving department. “We’re excited to see how this concept takes off.”
ZeroZero is developing a comprehensive three-phase program to partner with children from age 6 through high school graduation and, depending on their career path, into college. It is joining with community organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of Central Alabama, Girls Inc., Big Brothers Big Sisters, Restoration Academy, I3 Academy and the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes to recruit program participants.
This summer, ZeroZero launched phase one, which is designed to develop children’s interest in and passion for sports. It’s introducing them to six sports: basketball, baseball, football, soccer, volleyball and golf.
As part of phase one, ZeroZero held its first two week-long rally camps in June and July. The camps focused on the concepts of play, social development and inclusion. It is also hosting monthly skill-building sports training sessions throughout the school year. Through the grant, the Alabama Power Foundation provided support for the camps and training sessions and the organization’s administrative costs, and resources that will support financial aid and scholarships for participating youths.
As participating children grow into their early teens, they will move into the “enrichment phase,” where ZeroZero will work to broaden their perspective and create unique experiences that will open their eyes to other fields in the sports arena.
For instance, teens who excel in English will be introduced to sportswriters, and those with a strong aptitude in math and science will meet athletic trainers or engineers who help design stadiums.
As high school juniors, they will move into the “enhancement phase” where ZeroZero will help them think through career options and connect them with professionals who can guide them in pursuing their goals.
“In this phase, we want to find out what the teens are good at in sports but also what they are good at academically,” Schmidt said. “If you look hard enough, there’s a whole economy around what’s happening on the field.”
ZeroZero will also help teens with standardized-test preparation, resumé writing and interviewing skills, and offer internship opportunities. It also hopes to provide scholarships and financial aid to those without the means to pursue their college dreams.
“It becomes a corporate workforce-development initiative at this point,” Schmidt said. “We’re creating opportunities that most of these kids don’t realize exist in the first place.”
Teens will also have the chance to attend sports events like college or professional football, basketball or baseball games – experiences that may never have come their way without ZeroZero.
Schmidt believes he was “called” to create ZeroZero.
“I’m a Christian, and I take the word of God seriously when He says to care for orphans and widows, and love your neighbor as yourself,” Schmidt said. “If I’m going to abide by what the word of God says, this is how we can do it through the world of sports.”
He said he is grateful to the Alabama Power Foundation for supporting ZeroZero and its promise of expanding the educational, career and economic horizons for children in the Birmingham area.
“For the Alabama Power Foundation to believe in the vision of what we’re trying to do has made an incredible difference. I would like to look back in 10 years and say we might not have ever gotten here if companies like Alabama Power hadn’t believed in us from Day One.”
By starting these children on the path to success, ZeroZero is creating a “multiplication effect,” Schmidt said.
“We may not have 1,000 kids who get through the process,” he said. “But if we only have 10 whose lives have been changed, the lives of their kids and grandkids will also be changed. That’s hope. That’s the multiplication effect.”
For more information or to get involved, go to ZeroZero Foundation.