The founder of Tiny Toones, Tuy Sobil, who goes by his nickname “KK,” is a Cambodian born in the Thai refugee camps in 1977. His family fled the killing fields and persecution of the Khmer Rouge in the 70’s, and though they dreamed of rebuilding a new life in America, they struggled through poverty and lived in one of the most gang and drug infested neighborhoods of Long Beach, California. KK first started break-dancing at the early age of eight, and after he won a major battle against his former rivals in a b-boy crew called Tiny Toones, they united to become Ground Force Crew and dominated dance competitions in the area. They were being trained as the upcoming generation of the legendary West Coast b-boy crew known as Air Force Crew.
But Ground Force Crew and KK’s life took a wrong turn in their later teenage years, when they started following the wrong crowd and became involved with drugs, gangs, and crime. After eight years in-and-out of incarceration, he was deported in November 2004 to Cambodia – a country he had never stepped foot in before with a language he could barely speak. KK was quickly able to find work as a health and drug harm reduction worker when he was finally released in Phnom Penh, because he had enrolled in numerous workshops and classes in HIV education, substance abuse counseling, and peer-to-peer gang intervention throughout his imprisonment.
While KK was on youth outreach in Phnom Penh, word spread that he was a very talented breakdancer when he was younger. Nine kids approached him to be their dance teacher, but he turned them down at first, since he had stopped dancing over ten years ago. He soon learned that the children lacked positive role models and were very at-risk to choosing a life style of hardship. Fearing that they otherwise might repeat his own mistakes, he opened up his own home to serve as a youth center with breakdancing as the main activity. KK funded much of the early program out of his pocket, by continuing to work at his full time job; however, he spent the entirety of his evenings, weekends, and holidays mentoring his students. The health and educational training he received in prison became the foundation of the Tiny Toones curriculum. His old stories of growing up in the streets of Long Beach and personal lessons from his past mistakes give him a unique charisma that attracts thousands of at-risk youth and commands their immediate respect.
In early 2007, Bridges Across Borders – Southeast Asia (BABSEA), an international NGO and 501(c) (3) tax-exempt charitable organization, met KK and was inspired by his unique vision. BABSEA sponsored Tiny Toones as a project, providing both technical and administrative support and training. http://www.babsea.org As its main fiscal sponsor, BABSEA organizes fundraisers, writes grants, and introduces donors to the program. In 2008, after gaining financial support from the McKnight Foundation of Minneapolis (www.mcknight.org), the East Asiatic Company Charitable Fund of Copenhagen, and Arts Network Asia of Singapore, KK was able to devote himself full-time to Tiny Toones and move the program out of his home into its current facility.
Currently, Tiny Toones is assisted by numerous supporters from around the world and guided by its international board of directors. By the end of 2010, Tiny Toones will become an independent non-profit organization, after registering as an international NGO in Cambodia and 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt charitable organization in the U.S. Tiny Toones’ tremendous potential and accomplished past continues to attract an increasing number of international visitors and journalists, as well as growing support from the international community.