Following a year of sports cancellations due to safety concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, the owner of a local car dealership is giving back to ensure area youths have successful seasons ahead.
Brad Lewis, owner of Lewis Toyota of Topeka, told The Topeka Capital-Journal on Tuesday the dealership is donating $25,000 to create a fund that would provide grants to area athletes who want to play but may need help with such things as tournament-entrance fees and purchasing equipment.
“With the vaccinations and cities and states opening up, hopefully, this is a full summer of sports for the youth,” Lewis said. “We want to make sure that we can reach as many kids as possible and let these kids participate.”
He said Lewis Toyota is donating that $25,000 to the Greater Topeka Partnership, which will work with the dealership to disseminate the funds. The money is expected to be dispersed as local youths, families or teams apply for it.
Lewis said those looking to benefit from the funds will need to apply in person at Lewis Toyota, 2951 S.W. Fairlawn Road, or online at the dealership’s website. The application should be available no later than Friday.
Lewis said he hopes to help local youths with everything from tournament and travel-related expenses to buying a new pair of cleats.
“The last year, these kids have dealt with a lot of uncertainty, and I feel like getting kids out to participate, getting them out in the fresh air, getting them out competing and building friendships with other team members will be a good experience for them,” Lewis said.
During the application process, he encourages youths to come into the dealership and ask for the money themselves.
“That way I can sit down and talk to them, feed them some easy questions when it comes to: ‘Hey, what are you going to do this summer? What do you feel like your strengths are in this sport? What do you feel you can get better at?'” Lewis said.
And he hopes recipients of the funds will give him regular updates about their performance and how their teams are doing.
“They’ve got to come in here and talk to me about this donation, instead of me just writing a check and never hearing from them again,” Lewis said. “I’m going to try to make it … a good learning experience for these kids.”
According to Lewis, there is a committee made up of about five people that will review grant applications. The committee includes someone from Lewis Toyota, a couple representatives from Topeka Unified School District 501, a local basketball coach and a representative from GO Topeka.
Lewis said they will continue awarding funds until the $25,000 is gone. But he hopes other local businesses will chip in to expand the pool, allowing them to reach as many children as possible.
“We’ve got to give these kids the opportunity to compete,” Lewis said. “I don’t want money or equipment or anything to hinder these kids’ abilities to participate in sports this summer.”