Growing up, Max Levitt dreamt of working in the sports industry. The Rockville, Md., native gained plenty of experience during his summers home from college, completing internships with Maryland Senior Olympics, the Bowie Baysox and Washington Redskins.
Shortly after earning his degree in sport management from Syracuse four years ago, Levitt saw an opportunity to combine his passion for sports and helping children.
In June 2011, Levitt, 26, founded Level the Playing Field Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping underserved children in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas. Levitt, a former student manager for the Orange football team, estimates the group has distributed approximately $1 million of sporting equipment to local programs since its inception.
"Just seeing the reaction of the athletic directors, parents and kids and how grateful and shocked they are that I'm doing something like this for free is incredibly gratifying," Levitt said. "No parent wants to have their kid come home and tell them they can't afford to get them the equipment. It's hard on a parent to have to say no to their kid when they want to do something like that."
The first time Levitt said he took notice of the hardships some kids deal with around the world was during a family trip to Guatemala as a high school student in 2007. It was at that point, he said, something had to be done.
"The most eye-opening thing for me during my family vacation to Guatemala was the lack of sports," Levitt said. "I said to my parents, ‘Why doesn't someone just come here, put some pavement down and put up some basketball hoops or put up a soccer goal in the dirt fields?' These kids looked miserable, and if they just could have played sports for an afternoon -- which seems so simple -- I think it would make a huge difference in their lives."
Three years later, in 2010, when Levitt and his family visited a small school in Botswana, Africa, during a safari, he said he witnessed more of the same issues. But this time, he took action and made good on his initial promise.
Levitt filled up two duffel bags of used sports equipment from several of his friends' parents and personally delivered them to the class. The reception he received from the 12 students and teacher was more than anything he could have anticipated.
"It just had an incredible impact on me and the kids that day," Levitt said. "That was when I kind of realized and asked myself, ‘How is someone not doing this?' I didn't understand it. It baffled me."
While his trips to Guatemala and Africa provided him with a new outlook, he said similar problems often go unnoticed in many neighborhoods in the U.S. To help right that, Levitt said he is hoping to localize his efforts through community involvement.
"There are people doing it here, but they aren't localizing it the way we are," Levitt said. "A lot of people are sending things overseas, and there is a huge amount of need over there, but a lot of people don't realize how difficult it is for people to play sports in the U.S. It gets taken for granted and overlooked on many occasions."
Levitt did acknowledge his own set of challenges he faces on a daily basis. With a full-time staff of two, he said he makes treks from his Silver Spring, Md.-based operation to Baltimore at least once per week, attending meetings with potential clients while making drop-offs.
Still, even with the costs associated with renting a U-Haul, gas and other expenses, Levitt plans to add at least one more full-time staffer by the end of 2015 and open a Baltimore office not long after. That's only a snippet of what he has in store for the organization's continued expansion.
One day, in the not-too-distant future, Levitt hopes to take the blueprint he has established in Washington and Baltimore and "franchise" his business model to reach more cities around the country. For Levitt, he's already begun mapping out how he would like to carry out that plan of action.
"Our short-term goal is to raise the money to the point where we can kind of build up the staff, so we can do this thing the right way," Levitt said. "Meanwhile, our long-term goal, once we have this proven concept and structure, is to bring this to us other places. We get phone calls from people in Florida, New York and Texas, so that's something we are definitely in the process of looking at now."