A camp, a cause and a fund to honor Jack
Tom Roos set out almost six years ago to make an impact through a program called the Haitian Initiative, which provides opportunities for kids living in situations that probably seem like a world away from Alexandria for most.
Now through a new memorial fund that benefits the Haitian Initiative, Roos and the Schneider family from Alexandria are helping that cause by bringing it a little closer to home.
The Haitian Initiative is a program through the Sanneh Foundation, which was established by former professional soccer player Tony Sanneh. It uses soccer to help combat poverty in Haiti by getting kids into the sport and providing them with an education and regular meals.
Through the program, kids in the poverty-stricken area of Cite Soleil practice and play soccer six days a week. Regular school attendance and passing grades are a requirement for the youth to participate. For many of these kids, the meal they get after every practice—provided by the Minnesota organization Feed My Starving Children—is the only meal of their day.
Roos walked the streets of Cite Soleil with Sanneh a few years ago and saw how much of a need there was for its youth. Initial fundraisers he helped organize were able to raise a limited amount of money—a couple hundred bucks here and there.
This year, after Roos' annual week-long soccer camp for first graders through seniors, Roos and the Alexandria Area Soccer Association met their goal of raising $10,000 to sponsor a U11 boys soccer team in Cite Soleil.
"It means a lot to me because it's supporting a great program and it's honoring the memory of one of our former players here and showing the respect and care to that person's family," Roos said. "That means a lot to me in addition to the benefit that it has for HI."
Jack Schneider Memorial Fund
That former Alexandria player is Jack Schneider.
Jack played soccer for the Cardinals and was a successful alpine skier. Jack's father, Jon, and others who knew him describe Jack as a kind soul whose love for people and soccer helped him see firsthand what the Haitian Initiative program could do for kids in need when many of the young Haitian players would come to Alexandria as part of the HI exchange program.
In addition to soccer and skiing, Jack loved the outdoors, as he started hunting and fishing with his dad from the time he was almost 2 when they caught their first Minnesota walleye together on Lake Miltona on Father's Day of 1999. Academically, Jack got accepted into the engineering program at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
During his senior year of high school, Jack suffered a concussion in soccer that led to lingering symptoms. Jon said a combination of vision issues stemming from the concussion and other physical challenges forced him to withdraw from his first year of college in Madison. The physical and mental challenges continued to affect him. On Jan. 9, 2017, Jack died by suicide.
His death has been devastating for the family, but through it they saw an opportunity to remember him by helping others through the Jack Schneider Memorial Fund (thesannehfoundation.org/programs/haitian-initiative/ways-to-help/jack-schneider-memorial-fund). Money raised through the fund, which anyone can donate to, goes to help those children in need through the Haitian Initiative.
"The combination of Jack's inspirational hard work in school and on the soccer pitch, his compassion for other people, and love of soccer, the 'beautiful game,' and sports combined with Tom Roos' Haitian Initiative involvement and soccer camps here is why we thought that creating a memorial fund in Jack's name at The Sanneh Foundation was the best use of the memorial money we received from hundreds of people after Jack passed," Jon said. "Tom Roos and Tony Sanneh and all the donors to the Haitian Initiative here have kept his memory alive since, and I hope it continues well into the future."
Much more than soccer
Roos and the AASA raised their funds for HI through Jack's memorial fund.
The camp alone, after all expenses were paid, brought in almost $2,500. Throughout the year, there are other fundraising efforts—a golf tournament, T-shirt sales and a free-will offering with a meal during camp week.
The camp brings in decorated coaches with professional and collegiate backgrounds in soccer.
"We want all of our kids to have a positive experience, experience top-notch coaching that they would at any top camp in the upper-Midwest," Roos said. "We hope that energizes a passion for the game and a love for the game that they carry into how they approach it the rest of the year. Then obviously, we're just so fortunate to get not just great soccer coaches, but people who are great examples of how they're living their lives outside of soccer."
One activity during the week is a camp and Haitian Initiative celebration where Alexandria players get the chance to hear from guest speakers who have gone on to do important work off of the soccer pitch. This year's speakers included former University of Minnesota player Lisa Berg, who spent time after her playing days living in Uganda and working to get opportunities for girls in sports. Berg went on to coach for the Ugandan women's national team.
"The message all our kids were getting is we have some of these people who we put on a pedestal for their athletic accomplishments in soccer, but what's really admirable is what they're doing now beyond soccer," Roos said. "That's just a great example for all of our kids to be able to see and experience."
Roos retired from teaching after this past year in Alexandria but will still serve as the Cardinals varsity coach for the girls this fall. Like any coach, he wants to win on the field. More importantly, he wants youth players in Alexandria to see there are ways to win off the field, as well.
"We're opening the eyes for our own local kids to the fact that people throughout the world have needs," Roos said. "We're excited to be able to bring a great soccer program to our youth, but we're also excited that our youth are getting the message that there's more than just kicking a soccer ball around. The big picture is we all have an ability to make a positive impact on the world."