The Husky Ticket Project is on a mission to bring Connecticut youth to UConn Husky games. Founded by Kevin Kortsep, Jeremy Longobardi, and Kevin Solomon, the nonprofit partners with local organizations to make this possible. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Kevin Solomon to learn more.

NAN PRICE: How did this idea start?

KEVIN SOLOMON: Jeremy, Kevin, and I are all University of Connecticut graduates. After graduation, we were living in New York City and couldn’t get to as many football and basketball games as we wanted to. Seeing all these empty arenas and stadiums, we wanted to do something to continue to show our support. So, we brainstormed and figured maybe we could send a few local kids in our place.

Our first year we launched in 2018, we did some fundraising and set a goal to raise $3,000. We ended up raising $6,000, which enabled us to send 300 kids to games. Starting out, we thought $3,000 was a lofty goal. Doubling our fundraising our first year proved to us that this was something other people were also interested in supporting.

NAN: How are you getting the word out?

KEVIN: Social media has been huge for us. What really got our name out there at first was our Twitter account, which generated a small, niche following that enabled people to learn about what we were doing.

The hard part was generating some type of authenticity. To most people, we were just three unknowns asking for money. People have a hard time donating their hard-earned money and they want to make sure it’s going to the right place. So, early on, we decided it would be beneficial for us to receive photos from each organization we partnered with to send kids to games.

We included those photos of kids at the actual games in email and social media blasts. Our donors could see, in real time, smiles on these kids’ faces as they saw and experienced college athletics—many of these kids for the first time.

And we heard inspiring stories from our partners. For instance, it was a great opportunity for Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters, because sometimes the Big Brothers and Little Brothers have a time connecting. When they went to the games together, we heard stories about connections and breakthroughs being made. Some of the kids started talking about college aspirations they hadn’t thought about before.

We didn’t necessarily expect that type of reaction when we started this thing. It was really cool. And from there, we knew we were onto something.

NAN: In terms of starting a nonprofit, do any of you have any business experience?

KEVIN: Not at all. I do social media for Verizon, Jeremy is a certified public accountant, and Kevin is a sales executive. So, none of us had any nonprofit experience.

Early on, we were fortunate to connect with another UConn grad, Ryan Matthews, who is Vice President of Programs at Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters. He also started his own nonprofit called The Susie Foundation in memory of his mother who passed away from ALS. Ryan was instrumental in helping us figure out how to become an official 501(c)(3), get our tax identification number, and come up with ideas for fundraising.

Without him, we probably wouldn’t be here. We didn’t have any experience. It was learn as we go. Getting that official nonprofit status was huge early on too, because that gave us some more legitimacy.

NAN: So, you launched in 2018. How has the nonprofit evolved?

KEVIN: The first year we raised $6,000, the second year we raised about $10,000. This calendar year we’re approaching $100,000.

Last year, we had an impactful social media moment with hot sauce challenge that was inspired by one of our Twitter followers. Our pledge was, for every shot of hot sauce someone does, they donate $5. Our thought was, if we can raise $5,000, that would be great. What happened was, people kept taking shots of hot sauce and donating money. When it was all said and done, we raised $80,000 just from that month-long viral moment!

When you catch fire like that, you have to roll with it. That was a whirlwind. It wasn’t only instrumental in the donations, but our brand awareness blew up, which has enabled us to do a lot of new things.

For example, we’re planning on sending 5,000 kids to games this year, where in our first three years, we sent 1,500. We don’t want to say we’re not going to do fundraising again, but hopefully this money will last us for a while.

NAN: Tell us about the upcoming Party on Pratt.

KEVIN: We’re partnering with the Hartford Chamber of Commerce to shut down Pratt Street across from the XL Center on December 18, right before a men’s basketball game. We’re throwing a big party on Pratt Street. It’s going to be an awesome time!

A mutual contact connected us with Hartford Chamber and thought it was a great opportunity for both of us. The event will include a silent auction, giveaways, and some fundraising.

We’ll also have a about 100 kids at the game who are able to go for free, as we do for the majority of men’s and women’s basketball games. It’s the first time fans are going to be back together for a UConn basketball game in a Big East setting, which is really exciting!

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Top photo: Husky Ticket Project Co-Founders Jeremy Longobardi, Kevin Kortsep, and Kevin Solomon (left to right).