By Kayla Anderson · 

Once there was a 15-year-old kid who grew up in Incline Village, Nev., and liked to skateboard, but didn’t have any place to practice. So in 1997, he gathered friends together and launched his first nonprofit organization: Incline Skateboard Park Foundation.

Justin and men from an African village testing a new water pump. | Courtesy Justin Spees

“When the planning for the skateboard park was happening, IVGID provided the land for a price of $1 and told us to come up with $260,000,” says charity organizer Justin Spees. “In a combination of donations and county grants, the foundation was able to raise the amount. I handwrote all of the paperwork over my summer vacation and [IRS] thought it was a joke and sent it back. After a couple more times, I finally got it going.”

African women using the new water pump. | Courtesy Justin Spees

Luckily for Spees, launching his first charity when he was a teenager gave him experience in setting up investment accounts, which he parlayed into a global charity focusing on international projects.

After graduating high school, Spees went on to get a bachelor degree from California State University, San Diego with a focus in international business. He then received his MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University and traveled to Europe to work for large corporations. Spees soon saw that his passion for international business, the environment, business relations and charity went hand in hand.

“The happiest people I met in my life were poor and dying,
so that changed my perspective on what really matters
and makes me grateful for the small things.
People in America have it darn good.”

“I was able to get multi-million corporations into sustainability and social responsibility,” said Spees. “On an upcoming vacation, I wanted to go to a place affected by poverty. I had a friend in West Africa and met her over there to help build a water pump for a village. It saved people’s lives. We’re talking about a family of six making $300 per year; women walking all day to fill up a bucket of dirty water and bringing it back.”

Justin Spees at an organic farm. | Courtesy Justin Spees

Since his first trip to Africa, the 2014-15 Clean Water Project administered by the Incline Skateboard Park Foundation resulted in 30,000 people having fresh water in Togo, West Africa. Donations through his charity also helped restore water to 400 students in Gambia. Spees says that the local communities contribute funds and will maintain the water pumps for years to come.

“In Africa, people have nothing, not even the No. 1 thing you need to survive — water — let alone food, clothing or education.”

He then expanded the original charity he set up as a teenager and renamed it Give The Dream Foundation to support various charitable projects on a global scale.

“With Give The Dream, I’m trying to give to projects around the world. I’ve never taken a dime for this and I make sure that all of the money is going to the cause,” he says. “Our goal is to take as much of the donation money and give it directly to those people responsible for the project.

“I have friends who worked in the Peace Corps and lived in poverty-stricken countries. I give them so much credit for what they do,” he says. “Peace Corps volunteers are there for two years whereas I’m only there for a week and a half.”

Even though Spees has taken four trips to different parts of Africa on humanitarian projects and has been to many different places, his home remains in Incline Village.

“I’ve traveled to 55 countries and have met all types of people with different governments and different laws. When I got that kind of international perspective in seeing what works and what doesn’t, it made me realize how good my life was growing up here in the mountains.

“I’ve lived in a lot of cities, places that are heavily polluted, and out of all of that, Incline Village is the nicest place. I’ve also had an opportunity to build up my own business, reconnect with the family business and teach,” he says.

Spees is quick to add that he hasn’t done this all by himself. His parents and sister are estate and financial attorneys who’ve also offered support.

This past summer, Spees focused on his charity, teaching classes in international business as an adjunct professor at Sierra Nevada College and building his investment-advising business. He is also planning another trip to Africa in spring 2017, this time on a wildlife conservation trip.

“When I was living in Spain, I saw that none of my problems mattered at all compared to what I saw in poverty-stricken countries. The happiest people I met in my life were poor and dying, so that changed my perspective on what really matters and makes me grateful for the small things. People in America have it darn good,” he says.

Spees also hasn’t forgotten about his first project.

“Since I have returned to town, I’ve heard some suggestions for repairs at the Incline Skateboard Park and am currently speaking to community members to address them,” he says. “We would be happy to fund raise and support the skateboard park and continue the project that started our foundation.”

For more information or to make a donation, visit facebook.com/givethedreamfoundation or just-advisors.com.

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Kayla Anderson
Kayla Anderson is a freelance writer, marketer and action sports enthusiast who has spent the last 10 years in North Lake Tahoe snowboarding, hiking and wake surfing. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chico State University and loves being out on the lake as often as she can.