Few child athletes grow up to play professionally — or even play at the collegiate level — but the physical and social benefits reaped from playing team sports are undeniable. Bill Laranga founded UpLyft because he believes strongly in the value of athletics, and he doesn’t want the cost of sports equipment to deter a child from playing.
Laranga explains, “Sports were an escape for me — baseball specifically. I’d be out all day playing ball and get mad that it was getting dark outside and we couldn’t play anymore. We want to give all kids [the chance to] escape…that’s how [UpLyft] began. I called three of my friends and (said), ‘I have a full time job and can’t do this by myself. Here’s my idea and let’s see what we can do together.’”
Ensuring participation in sports
Laranga and his three friends created the nonprofit UpLyft to ensure all Northwest Ohio children have the opportunity to participate in athletic activities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than half a million Ohio children, or 1 in 5 kids, are living in poverty. When providing food and shelter is a struggle, buying expensive sports equipment for an extracurricular activity is not a priority and, oftentimes, not possible.
“I played sports my entire life, so did my brother, and our garage was just inundated with sports equipment,” says Laranga. He knew his garage wasn’t the only one packed with items that were no longer of use, so he founded UpLyft to collect those gently used items to distribute “sports and fitness equipment to the schools, programs, and organizations [that could] best put the equipment to use to serve our area’s youth.”
The goal of UpLyft is to “uplift the community. We want to be able to say that our basketballs or cleats got a kid into college with a sports scholarship. We want to make these kids know that people care. When you’re living in poverty, it’s easy to feel like no one cares,” Laranga says.
Benefits of participating
Even if those cleats don’t propel a young child to college, there are other benefits to playing sports. Laranga discloses, “I think the biggest [advantage to playing sports] is knowing that you need to count on other people to win or to lose…[and] you need to find your role. Sports look very easy on the TV, but when you play against people, there’s a lot more to it–teamwork, discipline, and the biggest thing is failure,” Laranga continues. “If you never fail, it will be hard for you to learn.”
From New Jersey to Northwest Ohio
Despite growing up in New Jersey, just a stone’s throw from New York City, Laranga calls Toledo his home. Laranga’s family moved to Maumee in 2004 when Bill was just 12, and he reminisces, “The pace of life slowed down significantly, and life was a lot more relaxed.”
Laranga played collegiate baseball and graduated from Lourdes University with a Bachelor’s degree in education. In his final year of school, while he was student teaching, Laranga realized teaching wasn’t for him. He applied to law school and was accepted to several schools, but he thought, “I don’t know how the heck I’m going to afford that.”
Laranga was coaching a travel baseball team at the time, and the father of one of his players noticed his potential and offered him a job at Ally Financial in Detroit. Laranga laughs, “I took a technical job with no technical experience and just ran with it.”
At only 24, Bill Laranga is the IT Project Manager for Ally Financial and the founder and president of UpLyft, which continues to expand and gain recognition with plans to continue to “build out this model in Toledo.”
If you are interested in learning more, donating items, or requesting gently used equipment, visit the website, uplyft.today.
Q&A with Bill Laranga
What’s your favorite activity to do with your family/friends?
Best holiday memory from when you were a kid?
When I woke up to a train set. My dad had completely built it for me when I was 4.
What’s your go-to activity when you have a few minutes to yourself?
Reading or learning.
Describe your life in five words or less.
Exhilarating, fast-paced, enjoyable, optimistic, energetic.
What is your favorite Toledo hangout?
I absolutely love The Blarney.
Describe Toledo in a sentence?
Toledo is the diamond in the rough that we call home.