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Article Published April 25, 2019
Horton Making a Difference in East Haven
PJ Foti, Sports Writer

Gunner Horton is a sophomore at East Haven High School who competes for the Yellowjackets' football and wrestling teams. While Gunner is a key contributor at the varsity level for both programs, it's what he does off that field that makes him even more special.

When he was 10 years old, Gunner founded Kids Making a Difference (KMAD), which is a non-profit organization that gives back to people who are less fortunate. Gunner was inspired to start KMAD after his father Lance took him to a homeless shelter where they were giving out coffee, but ran out of cups.

"A guy picked up an old fish bait cup, scooped out the dirt, and asked for coffee. I went home and thought about it, and it changed me," Gunner says. "A week after, I asked my dad to help start up KMAD, and it really grew."

KMAD collects clothes and other essential items, then donates them to people who are in need. Gunner's motto with the non-profit is that you are never too young to make a difference.

"When I fall, my parents are there to pick me up. When [the homeless] fall, nobody is there to pick them up and say to try again. Me, I'm kind of helping them get back up," says Gunner. "It just helps people and shows that they have other people to help them. A kid like me, if I can make a difference, anyone can make a difference."

KMAD formed an alliance with Jesse's Homeless Outreach Project (J-HOP). The two organizations are hosting the seventh annual Operation Love-A-Fair that is taking place from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 4 at Scantlebury Park on 139 Ashmun Street in New Haven.

"We have a big annual event. We help week to week, but we have our yearly monster event that used to be on the New Haven Green, but we got too big, so now we're at Scantlebury Park," says Gunner's father Lance. "We have 200 volunteers. It's amazing the people that go away with trash bags of clothing, toothbrushes, whatever they need. Anything that's left we sell to Goodwill and buy pizzas. It's an amazing thing."

Gunner runs KMAD with his younger sister Sammie, 13, and his brother Chase, 9. They each have their specific roles in the organization.

"We all have our parts," says Gunner. "I'm where the clothes come from, my brother collects jackets, and Sammie collects socks."

Gunner plays on the offensive and defensive lines for the East Haven football team. This winter, he competed in the 220-pound weight class with the wrestling squad. Gunner has seen plenty of success on the mat throughout his first two seasons, having collected 35 victories for Head Coach Mark Tolla's club.

"This year, Gunner was our undisputed 220 and had a good season," Coach Tolla says. "He struggled from an experience standpoint with the top-level kids, but you can see he closed the gap between those kids and himself. The matches were more competitive, and he beat kids he wouldn't have a year ago, so we're enthusiastic with his growth."

Gunner has started to take wrestling more seriously during the offseason by working with Team Tugman in Branford. Following his solid sophomore year, Gunner has his sights set on achieving a big-time milestone before he graduates from East Haven.

"I want to hit the 100-win mark," says Gunner.