MESA, Ariz. — When Austin Gutwein was 9 years old, all he really wanted was to make his school's hoops team. He didn't make it. But he did rebound.
You see, Austin had an African pen pal, a little boy whose letters encouraged Austin to learn more about Africa — which he did, including the really tough stuff. Here’s what he knows about AIDS.
“I know it is a disease that when it gets to parents it kills them,” says Austin.
Austin learned the HIV/AIDS epidemic has orphaned 15 million kids. All of a sudden, not making the school team didn't seem like such a big deal.
“I really started to think about what it would be like if I lost my parents,” he says.
So Austin decided he'd raise money for Africa's orphans by shooting foul shots for one day, sort of like a walkathon. He raised $3,000.
“I was shocked,” says his father Dan Gutwein. “People donated that we never met before.”
But Austin knew $3,000 wouldn't go far, so he found a charity, World Vision, to help him spread the word. Calling it “Hoops of Hope,” he reached 1,000 kids who helped him raise $38,000.
“It's a problem that most kids think can't be helped, but we can do a little, and that's what a lot of people saw,” says Austin about his success.
What Austin saw was a new challenge — and this month kids in schools and churches in seven states all took their shot at helping.
And as if all this weren’t enough, this year the 12-year-old has decided he is going to build a school — in Africa, for orphans.
“This is something that I realized that if you do just the littlest, littlest thing, you can make a difference, and that's what I’m trying to do,” says Austin.
By last Saturday, Austin's Hoops of Hope had helped World Vision raise almost $100,000, and the charity announced it will build the school in Zambia next spring.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints