Not many kids can say they’ve had the chance to work closely with a professional athlete, but students throughout the Twin Cities can count themselves lucky. The Sanneh Foundation, founded in 2003 by St. Paul native and professional soccer player Tony Sanneh, lends opportunity to underprivileged students throughout the Twin Cities area who might not otherwise receive such valuable guidance.
\The mission of the Eden Prairie-based organization is to create a safe environment that supports students academically, fosters leadership skills and builds upon athletic ability. Housed in four schools, including three in the Twin Cities and one in New York, The Sanneh Foundation aims to make a difference in the lives of urban youth regardless of their ability to pay to play organized soccer. “Soccer is an international game that clearly brings people together, but in America for some reason it became an upper-middle class sport where you need 11 on 11 [players] and a full field, but you don’t. You can play 5 on 5, 2 on 2,” says Sanneh, who officially retired in January 2010 ending an 18-year career.
The foundation’s leadership team includes Sanneh, two fulltime employees and eight AmeriCorps and DreamLine Corps members. Corps members run all foundation curriculum, after-school programming that consists of one hour of soccer instruction and one hour of tutoring, community centers and leadership training for students in need, with the hopes of producing more leaders in society from this population.
Besides after-school activities, Corps members spend an average of 20 hours in the schools per week providing assistance to the administration. “Whatever the school needs, they’re there to back up and give the kids an extra friend and another adult they can relate to,” Sanneh says. The schools currently partnering with the Sanneh Foundation are Bloomington Kennedy High School, Brooklyn Center High School and KIPP Stand Academy in Minnesota, and Brooklyn International High School in New York, where the program was piloted.
At KIPP Stand Academy, a charter school in Minneapolis with a school day that runs from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., DreamLine Corps members fill a variety of roles. From tutoring students in science to leading small reading groups to coaching gym classes, the response to their presence in the building has been overwhelmingly positive. “It promotes awareness and empowers student athletes of color,” says Michelle Mathews, a teacher at KIPP Stand. “[The students] can see that even if you’re an extremely successful athlete, you still need an education.”
Besides providing soccer instruction, which KIPP Stand incorporates into their long school day by extending the gym period, The Sanneh Foundation leaders stress the importance of building strong values and practicing good behavior. “It’s nice when we can see [the students] in school. If they aren’t doing what they’re supposed to, we remind them. Sometimes they just need to hear it again; they need a friend who’s not a teacher,” Sanneh says.
DreamLine Corps members model and teach five exemplary practices of leadership. “Our main core value is ‘model the way,’” Sanneh says. “If you say you know it’s wrong to steal, then why would you steal?” The other four values (inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act and encourage the heart) further enhance the mission of the foundation; each student is taught to strengthen their community, share aspirations, build trust and celebrate excellence, and that’s just the short list.
Sanneh says the board of The Sanneh Foundation is in the process of laying down infrastructure for expansion over the next few years. “I’d like to grow our programs. Eventually we want to have our own facility,” he says, noting that it’s an ongoing goal to provide safe playing spaces for the students.
From 7 to 10 p.m. March 12, The Sanneh Foundation is hosting a Gala for Goals at TCF Bank Stadium with a silent auction, appearances by professional soccer players and coaches and even celebrity guest coach Bob Bradley of the U.S. National Team.
Sanneh Soccer camp will be held June 12–16 and 19–23 at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. Boys and girls ages 10–19 are invited to attend this overnight, which is led by 20 college coaches and professional players from around the country. Besides soccer instruction, attendees will also complete college preparatory work, participate in cultural awareness seminars and anti-drug discussions and more. Another highlight of the camp is the awards ceremony, with honors given based on good behavior and leadership rather than skill in the sport.
The foundation also received the U.S. Soccer Foundation grant in mid-January.
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