In true Franciscan spirit, the St. Francis College Brooklyn women’s soccer team has partnered with Project Fleri. This non-profit organization has been actively involved in helping those affected by poverty in Haiti. The women’s soccer team will make a charitable donation to Project Fleri so that it can sponsor a child in Haiti.
By sponsoring a child in Haiti, the women’s soccer team will be able to provide him or her with the opportunity of obtaining an education. According to Project Fleri, in Haiti, only 20% of middle school and high school age kids stay in school. Under Head Coach Justine Lombardi, the Terriers’ have put Franciscan service at the forefront. When the opportunity to partner with Project Fleri arose, Lombardi and the Terriers were all in.
“Community service is a big part of our identity and what we want to be all about. It’s really important for me as a coach that they’re choosing community service ideas that they relate to and that they feel passionate about. All too often, I think that we say, ‘okay, you’re doing this,’ and it feels like more of a job if it’s something that they don’t understand and care about. I think that they put more into it and get more out of it when it comes to something that they choose as a team,” said Lombardi.
After a discussion with sophomore captain Sarah Dewitt, who presented that her family has been involved with Project Fleri, it became apparent to Lombardi that this was an initiative that she wanted her team to be a part of. From there, Lombardi invited Project Fleri founder Emily Booth to speak to the team via a video conference to provide further details about the initiative and how they can help make a difference in a child’s life.
“We had Emily, the owner and organizer of the project, come into our Zoom meeting and talk to the team and tell them what it’s all about. She really hit home with the girls because she talked about the individual kids who they’re helping. They got really excited about it when she said that they could video chat with their student and that they would send letters and how excited the child would be at the opportunity to have a full team of young female role models to look up to,” said Lombardi.
Since the earthquake of 2010, the Project Fleri team has been actively involved in helping those affected by poverty in Haiti. Booth started this particular organization last May following her college graduation. She decided to call the initiative Project Fleri because, in Haitian Creole, Fleri means to flourish. And flourishing is precisely what the children in the Project Fleri program are doing.
“We say kids deserve to flourish, and that’s our whole goal of Project Fleri. Each kid that’s in our program, whether it’s in the welcome house or we’re supporting them through school with our education sponsorship program our goal is to stick with them until they truly flourish in their careers and in their family life into adulthood. We’re working with each kid to find individualized goals so that they could be successful in life,” said Booth.
Booth noted that the St. Francis women’s soccer team would be the first athletic team of any kind to ever partner up with her organization. She spoke candidly about how the children in her program would greatly benefit from being sponsored by a team and have many young women to look up to as role models.
“I think it’s great for the kids in Haiti to have sponsors because it’s super empowering to them having somebody rooting for them in their studies. Often, families in Haiti don’t really emphasize studies because it hasn’t been an option for them in the past. Having exterior forces rooting for you makes a huge difference. I also think that for the sponsor, it is eye-opening, seeing how fortunate we are in the U.S. to have so many opportunities for education. I think this will be good for the girls from the team, and it could be a good bonding thing for them as well,” added Booth as she discussed the value in having a collegiate team sponsor one of the children in her program.
Lombardi detailed how the program would be structured within her team and noted how relatively cost-efficient it was to sponsor a child in the Project Fleri program. According to Project Fleri, for $250 a year, or $21 a month, you can sponsor a child’s education through the sixth grade. Lombardi decided to have each student-athlete on her team donate $5, and additionally, they need to find another individual to donate $5 as well.
“The way that we’re going to operate it within our team is each player is going to donate $5 and then find somebody else to donate $5. The reason that we didn’t just say donate $10 is that we want to raise awareness. Even if that’s talking about it with your family or friends, maybe they want to get involved. I think that’s what they can take from this is how little it takes from us on our end to change someone’s life. This is a matter of them (child in Haiti) having a home, having food, and getting an education,” said Lombardi as she shared how the team was going to contribute to this cause.
Being that the Terriers’ women’s soccer team is the first collegiate team to ever partner up with Project Fleri, Lombardi encourages other teams to get involved with the great cause.
“I think it’s great if St. Francis jumped on this, and we can get all of our athletic teams involved or at least some of them. The reason why I like the idea of the teams getting involved is that we have so many players, especially at St. Francis, from so many different places, so you can go home and spread the word. Also, when you contribute, say $5-10, that adds up to change someone’s life. We don’t expect college students to be able to give $300-400 to sponsor a student for the year, but when you work together, obviously, that does add up. I think that it’s so meaningful to give back, it’s the whole Franciscan mentality, giving back is more rewarding in the end then you would even believe,” Lombardi concluded.
Brianna Van Giesen | Sophomore
“Project Fleri is an amazing project to be a part of, and I think it will have a great impact on my teammates and I. I think that with living in New York and going to such an amazing school, we forget how important education is and the impact it can have on us as students, and all the opportunities education provides. An initiative like this is so important because it can remind my team and I the privilege we have of living in New York, getting an education, and playing Division I soccer. We also get to make an impact on someone else’s life, which is such an amazing thing to be a part of, it’s truly heartwarming, and I’m so excited my team gets to experience it.”
Sarah Dewitt | Sophomore
“Working with an organization such as Project Fleri means so much to me. Project Fleri is a small, family-run non-profit that has impacted not only my team here at St. Francis, but my family back home as well. One amazing part about working with Project Fleri is having the ability to directly interact with those who are on the receiving end in Haiti through FaceTime calls and writing letters to each other. Adding this direct communication has helped my team to make real global connections and see that while we may be miles apart, we can still be connected together.”
Lauren Schultz | Sophomore
“There are many things that my teammates and I can take away from being a part of an initiative like this one. This shows us that we are capable of making positive changes in the world, no matter how big or small. Also, as student-athletes, we have a platform and voice that we can use to encourage others and raise awareness for important causes. Our sport gives us so much more than just playing the game.”
About Project Fleri:
Since the earthquake in 2010, the Project Fleri team has been actively involved in helping those affected by poverty in Haiti. Throughout the past five years, we have focused on providing education and humanitarian efforts to the St. Jude community in Morne l’hôpital. Since our first trip, we have been able to successfully form a school lunch program and a transitional home for boys where their sponsors provide for their education and daily care. We have been blessed to see our organization grow each year as others become as passionate about helping this community as we are. As we have grown, we have realized ways we can make our organization even more impactful and sustainable. Starting in summer 2019 we are extending our program with a new initiative. As the children from St. Judes and our transitional home come close to graduating from high school, it has become apparent that the next step in our process is to create jobs. With this new initiative, we would like to focus on transitions. While continuing our efforts to provide children with education, we also plan to help families and graduating students find jobs. We firmly believe that solutions in Haiti are created through education, jobs, family reunification, and good choices.