NovatoSpirit gives children hope through sports

By Marian Schinske, Founder and Executive Director, Novato Spirit USA

Seeing that many children in my hometown of Novato, California were not able

to participate in sports due to financial limitations, I founded a nonprofit a

decade ago. Since then, the nonprofit KarmaSpirit, which now does business as

NovatoSpirit, has helped hundreds of low-income children experience the

transformative therapy of physical exercise.


The sports we offer are therapeutic, because we have good teachers. Where

there is a good teacher, there is hope. And where there is hope, there is



All children need hope, especially those living in poverty. As you know, poverty

can magnify health problems. So many of the kids who participate in

NovatoSpirit have a significant health issue, such as asthma, obesity, motor-skill

difficulties, depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And increasingly so, some are homeless.

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Our athletic teachers are patient, kind, and persistent. They encourage each

child to try new moves, even if that seems impossible, and the child learns how

to move beyond self-doubt. Children are placed in situations where they

discover their precision, their strength and their harmony with others. They

practice empty-handed, unadorned. They see what they can achieve with

nothing but mind, speech and body.


We award each child an athletic scholarship for 5 years, and during this time,

they learn how to move through their difficulties. They learn that they can be

asthmatic and excel at tae kwon do. They can be homeless and win gold

medals at karate tournaments. And they learn that depression will not prevent

them from rising above the dance floor.


They proceed with difficulty, but they proceed nevertheless. They see they’re

not ensnared by their so-called abnormalities. And, perhaps, they begin to

cease glorifying what society calls “normal,” focusing instead on embracing

what they can do with who they authentically are.

One of our dancers said, “Dancing is like becoming a work of art—a

masterpiece. I hope I can keep dancing forever.”

And one of our tae kwon do students said, “I am learning different techniques

that teach me self-defense, self-discipline, respect towards others and

endurance. Some of these techniques are kicks, punches and locks. Although

this may seem simple or violent, that’s not what tae kwon do is about. This is

the art of self-defense and not violence. I have learned that showing up every

day ready to participate and absorb the knowledge from my master is essential.

I find myself wanting to learn more and better myself.”


Besides offering the benefit of physical fitness, sports can generate a sense of

purpose. And the mentorship of a good teacher over several years can help

children orient themselves towards a hope-filled future.

We are grateful to have the support of several charitable organizations,

including our partner One World Children’s Fund. To learn more about

NovatoSpirit, please visit