Tony Sanneh couldn't remember how many summers he's made the trip to Alexandria for the Alexandria Area Soccer Association Haitian Initiative camp. But he always makes it back.

The former U.S. National Team member and two-time Major League Soccer champion is now in the business of helping others through the game of soccer.

The Sanneh Foundation strives to empower youth by supporting and promoting educational attainment through in-school and after-school support, improve lives by providing programs that strengthen physical health and social and emotional development, and unite communities by advancing diversity, equity, and community well-being.

"I realized I had to do something in soccer," Sanneh said from the Alexandria camp on July 28. "It's important we partner with the communities, especially in this day and age, in creating mutual understanding and providing opportunities for people that don't normally have them. From an access and a learning point of view, it's important for different cultures to learn about each other. Having that safe space is also really good."

Two players battle for a loose ball during a scrimmage at the Alexandria Area Soccer Association's Haitian Initiative camp at Alexandria Area High School on July 28, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Alexandria Echo Press)
Two players battle for a loose ball during a scrimmage at the Alexandria Area Soccer Association's Haitian Initiative camp at Alexandria Area High School on July 28, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Alexandria Echo Press)

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All camp proceeds from Alexandria's week-long camp for boys and girls in grades K-12 go to the Jack Schneider Memorial Fund. The fund provides an ongoing sponsorship for a U-11 boys team in the Haitian Initiative that allows 20 kids to attend school, receive clean drinking water and a daily meal and play soccer for an entire year.

Alexandria girls soccer coach Tom Roos hosts the week-long camp at Alexandria Area High School. On Wednesday, the Sanneh Foundation joined an elite group of guest coaches to stress the importance of diversity through the game of soccer.

Alexandria soccer players welcomed a group of diverse players from Pelican Rapids and Moorhead. The goal was to positively address racial and cultural barriers in a sit-down setting away from the field.

"Today was a great opportunity to bring people together," Roos said. "Soccer has the ability to bring people together. We wanted to have a purposeful activity for when these kids come together. What we're trying to do is build relationships that create positive attitudes and positive change. It's that simple."

Based out of St. Paul, Sanneh's trips to Alexandria come with a purpose.

"I think the people that are here today are committed to it," Sanneh said. "If the people in this community weren't committed to it, we probably wouldn't be here. They're committed, so we have to do our part to keep it going. I don't even know how many times we've come to Alexandria, but I think this is something special."

Sanneh aims to create safe spaces for athletes to learn about diversity away from the field. While half of the players were on the grass with the other guest coaches, the other half took a break to learn about doing their part in the fight for equality.

Soccer players from Alexandria, Pelican Rapids and Moorhead scrimmage at the Alexandria Area Soccer Association's Haitian Initiative camp at Alexandria Area High School on July 28, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Alexandria Echo Press)
Soccer players from Alexandria, Pelican Rapids and Moorhead scrimmage at the Alexandria Area Soccer Association's Haitian Initiative camp at Alexandria Area High School on July 28, 2021. (Jared Rubado / Alexandria Echo Press)

"We want to create a safe space for these kids," Sanneh said. "Obviously, a lot of these topics are sensitive. They do some role-playing and acting to make it light. There are no right or wrong questions or answers in there. They each have lived experiences, and I think they open up the eyes of a lot of people."

Roos has coached soccer in Alexandria since the 1980s and has made it a point to address issues of diversity through the game of soccer in recent years.

"I think this camp is a very effective way to teach kids," Roos said. "I think a lot of us here are teachers first and foremost. We prioritize life lessons and a sport that we are passionate about because it's meaningful. When we're fortunate enough to bring someone like Tony or all of the great guest coaches we've had, I think it's a very powerful statement."