AUSTIN, Texas — Marlo Saunders started the nonprofit 33Up Inc. with help from his wife Nyki and brother Marcus. They are intended to help children achieve goals, such as covering the costs of college and competitive events. Staff members also help them find jobs after they graduate from high school and college, when their athletic careers come to an end.
“We really go above and beyond. We want kids to know it’s a safe place, and sometimes that’s even more important than practice and practice; it’s mentorship, it’s positive relationships,” Saunders said.
“And the parents give us permission to talk to them. But we are just another outlet for children, which is important these days,” Nyki said.
After playing professionally overseas, Saunders began working at the Boys and Girls Club of Central Texas. It was there that he unlocked his passion for giving back to young people and planned to apply a similar model for his own ideas.
“I really think back to my time at the Boys and Girls Club of Central Texas, where I really gained a lot of knowledge and expertise on youth development,” he explained. “As I looked around, the children were hungry, the parents were hungry. [It’s] not just the training, but just that positive place where they can take their child.
“Marlo and I met at the Boys and Girls Club, where we worked in the school system with underprivileged children and children,” Nyki said. “Not everyone is able to connect with these children sometimes and we don’t want to leave any child behind.”
Their staff identify with each child and remember that they also needed guidance to achieve their goals.
“You know, I tell kids, ‘I was like you.’ I wanted to be something big, but I wasn’t 100% sure what it was like, but I knew deep down if I could accomplish a lot if I worked really hard. these kids because we grow up the same way,” Saunders said.
The similarities seem to work so far. 33Up has raised funds for over 60 kids to go to college and find jobs since opening in 2019.
The Saunders aspire to grow the business in Texas and nationally. They feel that children everywhere, no matter their difficulties, deserve validation and positive relationships.
“We just have to open our minds and our hearts and give these kids a chance. Sometimes it may take [a little more time] than others, but if you are able to do it, I think you can redirect the path of some of these children who are called “special children”, explained Nyki.
“That’s what kids are really looking for, especially with the way society is shaped today and so many things appeal to them. They are really looking for positivity in their life. I want young people to know that it is possible. We all have to start somewhere,” Saunders said. “You can become whatever you want to become, whether it’s a professional basketball player, whether it’s a doctor, whether it’s a teacher. Anything is possible.”
33Up is currently accepting donations, and if you’d like to get involved, visit 33Up.org.