Grad student helps build community through sport

Daniel Nabben will hit the beach again this weekend. But fun in the sun is serious business for this first-year Sport Management masters student, who is among the founders of a South Korean charity dedicated to raising money for a local community in memory of a fallen friend.

Drawn to South Korea by his cousin, who taught in the country, Nabben embraced the opportunity to teach English on JeJu, an island of 800,000 people off the southern coast of South Korea. He was on a plane less than 24 hours after finishing his undergraduate degree in business from the University of Windsor in 2003.

Initially drawn by “great beaches, great food and great people,” he would spend seven and a half years in the country.

In March 2009, a friend, Nathan Furey, died of what doctors believe was a sudden case of encephalitis. The loss of this fit, active and full-of-life husband and father of two was a shock to Nabben and his circle of friends. Needing to act, the group jumped into action to raise funds for the family. They targeted raising $20,000 to help cover part of the cost of postsecondary education for their friend’s children – Juno, 2, and Noah, 1, at the time.

These would be the early days of the Furey Foundation,

Hand-to-hand fundraisers, online auctions, even Frisbee sales, anything that would raise even the smallest amount of cash was employed. When all was said and done a year later, nearly two dozen efforts would move the group toward its goal.

But it would be a simple beach volleyball tournament that would take on a life of its own and allow this group of friends to impact their local community in a positive way.

Beach volleyball had little footprint on the island prior to the tournament. Some informal games, usually organized across Facebook, had generated some interest among ex-patriots living on the island. So, Nabben didn’t know what to expect from his fundraiser.

The first Saturday-Sunday event drew well, and was enjoyed by participants and sponsors alike. So much so, a second tournament followed in October, and then a third in May, at which point the group was nearing its $20,000 goal more than a year after their friend died.

“People were just going nuts about it; they were signing up three months in advance. There was just so much buzz. It was awesome,” Nabben said.

In a year, participation in the tournament had doubled; interest showed no sign of waning.

But with the goal reached for the Furey family, the group started looking to expand its fundraising efforts into the island community. Thanks to the help of a partner church, a local family in need was targeted.

“We just switched gears and started raising money for them,” Nabben said.

The beach volleyball tournament would expand, adding tournaments around Frisbee, golf and bowling, then darts and ping-pong, even dance. Four years on, the popular event – supported by local and foreign-born residents alike – has adopted two families as well as children housed in the island’s orphanages for its fundraising.

“It has been growing and growing ever since,” Nabben said.

This weekend marks the ninth such event, BVB9. To date, the Furey Foundation has raised more than $53,000.

“In the two and a half years of running the organization, I hadn’t really heard or paid attention to anyone giving Jeju Furey credit for creating a (sense of) community,” Nabben said. “It really struck me. So, it was an idea that was floating around in my head that charity sports organizations, particularly ones that do weekend-long beach volleyball tournaments, can really have an impact on multiple levels.”

So, when it came time to pick a supervising professor at Western, Nabben chose Kinesiology professor Laura Misener, also interested in community development through sport.

Not satisfied with simply leaving it all behind in South Korea, Nabben admits to having eyes on bringing the tournament to Grand Bend some day.

“I could do that,” he said. “I think we could do that.”