CARLSBAD — A Carlsbad teenager is working to help middle- and lower-income families cover the costs associated with youth sports programs.
Gavin Mestler, 18, a senior at Cathedral Catholic High School, founded Ludus Pursuit, a nonprofit dedicated to helping at-risk youth remain in sports by covering the costs of applications, registration and equipment.
“I started small by asking friends and family for equipment,” Mestler told The Coast News. “I’ve always loved sports. I just wanted to spread the joy I was getting from sports and give that joy to kids.
While Mestler has always had a philanthropic side, the idea of starting a nonprofit struck him 10 years earlier during a family trip to Fiji. During his visit, Mestler had observed some kids playing soccer with a ball wrapped in paper and held together by tape.
Mestler went to the car, plucked his rugby ball from the backseat and gave it to the kids. The next day, dozens of kids were outside playing rugby, a popular sport on the island nation.
This small but significant gesture solidified his passion for helping others. During the height of the pandemic, Mestler and his family traveled to Costa Rica. While staying in the Central American country, Mestler enrolled in a social entrepreneurship class through the UC San Diego Extension’s community outreach program, “Whatever It Takes.”
During his free time, Mestler and his brother, Logan, spent hours skateboarding with local kids, many of whom were using old or broken equipment.
Mestler negotiated a deal with a local skate shop, bought new skateboards and gave them to the kids. And like that, Ludus Pursuit was born.
Mestler started networking and recruiting friends as ambassadors to develop connections with local businesses to secure equipment or money to help kids play sports.
Tristan Coffman, a 17-year-old senior at Sage Creek High School, is the organization’s videographer, helping with social media outreach by documenting its success on Instagram.
“Gavin has always told me he has a passion for helping the community and empowering youth,” Coffman said. “I thought it was a great idea. I definitely see kids at this age need empowerment, support and strength from other people. Ludus Pursuit is a great way for us to bring that to them.”
Help at home
Peruvian-born Manny Medina is a local soccer coach and director of Atletico San Diego Futsal in Vista. Futsal is a modified soccer game with five players on each team, typically played indoors. According to Medina, several of his players need more money to afford extra training and other fees.
Several months ago, Medina, who also coaches at City SC in Carlsbad, received a call from a friend saying Mestler wanted to help. At first, when Medina saw a photo of the teenager, he thought it was a joke.
But Mestler delivered more than $3,000 in donations, helping 12 young players pay for a three-month fall futsal clinic. Medina said the clinic allows roughly 30 kids, ages 7 to 12, to each get 1,000-plus touches and teaches important lessons in teamwork, helps develop social skills and builds confidence.
“(Mestler) is an angel,” Medina said. “It’s huge because now they can (practice). They would just be at home watching TV or something. It’s about confidence. If a kid is in a good environment, they’re healthy mentally. If you’re healthy mentally, it helps with school, sports … everything works.”
Mestler has expanded the organization’s reach beyond San Diego, donating skateboards, wetsuits and surfboards to kids in Mexico. Additionally, the nonprofit recently partnered with Seeds of Hope and McGills Skateshop in Encinitas to provide underprivileged kids with skateboards.
The Carlsbad teenager wants to continue to grow the nonprofit’s network of donors, vendors and volunteer ambassadors by implementing a robust marketing campaign and offering more grant opportunities.