Appoquinimink High School seniors Julie Vail and Taylor George are working to help children in poverty-stricken Haiti by collecting used cleats and donating them to Global Outreach and Love of Soccer (GOALS), a four-year-old nonprofit that uses the sport to engage more than 600 Haitian youth a month.
Julie Vail was on a cruise last summer when she saw something she says will stick with her for the rest of her life.
“During the trip, we went on a jet ski excursion just off the coast of Haiti,” she recalled. “We were told beforehand that some of the locals might paddle out to us but that didn’t prepare me for what I was about to see.”
When some Haitians did venture out in the hopes of selling the tourists conch shells and bracelets, Vail says she came face to face with true poverty for the first time in her life.
“The one guy that came up to me was missing a leg and he just looked so underweight and sick,” she said. “He just kind of stared at me. It was one of the saddest moments in my life.”
Vail said it was that image that came to mind when she was trying to decide what to do for her senior project at Appoquinimink High School earlier this year.
“That’s how I came up with Haiti,” she said last week. “But I eventually decided to conduct a shoe drive because I know soccer is big there and I’m an athlete. And anyone who plays sports goes through a ton of cleats.”
Vail then reached out to friend and classmate Taylor George for help, since the two had already worked together on a church youth group pilgrimage to New Orleans the summer after their freshman year sponsored by St. Anne’s Church in Middletown.
“I’ve always like helping people who aren’t as fortunate and it seemed like a good idea so we decided to work together,” George said.
After searching online for a recipient of their goodwill, the girls found Global Outreach and Love of Soccer (GOALS), a four-year-old nonprofit that uses the sport to engage more than 600 Haitian youth a month in community service and education, while also helping to provide food, literacy tutoring and basic medical care to boys and girls living in rural poverty.
The girls then placed collection boxes at their school and distributed flyers asking friends, classmates and family members to donate any used cleats they might otherwise throw away.
The donations came in slowly at first but in the days leading up to last week’s oral presentations they managed to collect more than 40 pairs of used shoes.
“We actually got some really good ones that were hardly used at all,” George said.
While the graded portion of their senior project might be over, the girls say they’ll continue accepting donation at the school up until May 1, when they will ship the shoes off to Haiti.
“We are incredibly grateful for this donation, which will help continue our work in rural parts of Haiti, where it’s needed most,” said Jolinda Hackett, the executive director of GOALS, which is based in Leogane, the epicenter of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 100,000 Haitians and left many more homeless. “Donated equipment allows us to bring our sports, health and education programs to even more kids and families who will benefit from the services we provide.”
Vail and George said they’re delighted that their efforts will go to help those in need.
“It feels really good and it was so easy to do,” George said. “It was definitely a good experience.”
Vail said she and George also benefitted from the project by learning about Haiti, and how not to take life in Middletown for granted.
“When you consider that we live in the richest country in the world, while Haiti is the poorest county in the Western hemisphere and they’re just 1,500 miles away, anything we can do to help just seems like the right thing to do,” she said.
Anyone interested in donating cleats can drop their new or used shoes off at Appoquinimink High School between 7:30 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. Monday through Friday.