A Nonprofit Helps Kids in Crisis Neighborhood
It all started in 2006 on some old, unused, but well lit courts belonging to Anthony’s Key Resort (AKR).With support from the Galindo Family, Elmore and friend &co-founder, Brandon Raab, began encouraging the neighborhood kids to come gather on the courts in the late afternoon and play sports. “That’s the only thing I really knew how to do,” remembers Elmore. Today, the courts still serve as a gathering and play space in the early evening and as a place for skateboarding lessons after school.
Elmore come to Roatan from North Carolina where he had been working with children with emotional challenges. In 2004 he came to Roatan while backpacking in Central America. “I got really seasick on the ferry and postponed leaving. I started meeting people and fell in love with the island and decide that is where I wanted to be,” remembers Elmore. “I wanted to find something that would be fulfilling for my life and that is how SOL came about.”
“I had more than a couple friends die [from opioids],” says Elmore about the West Virginia town where he grew up and worked. “In the town I grew up in, Huntington, you have areas that fell into decay.” In US helping others is not an easy business. One needs insurance, certifications, approvals, training. “You can’t just have a playground and have kids start coming in there,’’ says Elmore. “There are programs in the States, but to get something going like we have here, you have to jump trough so many hoops and so many regulations that we could never do what we are doing here,” said Elmore. “It would almost have to be founded by the government. Here it’s much more organic.” In SOL, Elmore has recreated a place from his youth where one was free to roam through the neighborhood. “To me this place is a bit like where I grew up in 70s, carefree. In the US everything is really organized in structured programs.” Roatan is much more easy going, and kids life is much less structured. “Here you have your cousins and your brothers looking after you, it’s more of a sense of community,” continues Elmore.
The parents know that this is a safe spot for their kids to be at.
Over the years SOL has grown in leaps and bounds expanding its programs and broadening the community it serves. “It hasn’t been planned. It’s been an organic thing,” says Elmore. In keeping with its sports-based beginnings, SOL constructed a youth baseball field in West End aptly named the John J, Woods Field of Dreams. The facility now provides a home for several Little League baseball teams. In 2015, a beach volleyball court was added to support a growing volleyball program. “We are able to do a lot more with our sports teams there,” explains Elmore.
In October 2016 SOL opened its Havey Learning Center housed within the Center for Community growth in partnership with the Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA) in a building just west of AKR. A year later a West End home was donated and the materials from the home were used to expand the building. “All the wood, sinks, toilets were donated form a West End home that was about to be torn down,” says Elmore. At the Havey Learning Center, SOL offers tutoring along with English, art, and science classes for the 40 to 70 kids that come in to take part in the programs each day. “They can come and they can go at any time, as long as they are getting along,” said Elmore. “We are not a bunch of expats, but a community,” says Kristy Doig, a New Zealander who came to the island in 2001 and is SOL’s Program Director. SOL estimates that in 2017 around 60 volunteers put in at least four hours of work each at the foundation. Over 1,000 children from all around Sandy Bay participated in some program throughout the year. “The community looks after us too,” says Elmore. “The parents know that this is a safe spot for their kids to be at.”
The “Happy Tummies Active Minds Program” began in May 2017. Two chefs: Brittany from Roatan Oasis and Ed from Blue Marlin kick started the program and stepped in to help. “It’s Pizza, Pasta, they learn how to cook and how to cook healthy. So the kids have a better understanding of the food that is going in their belly and how to prepare it themselves,” said Doig.
Most recently SOL purchased a piece of land behind the Center for Community Growth with financial help of some Canadian donors. Now a green space is planned that will eventually include an edible garden and playground space. “After 12-13 years people understand that what you are doing is with their best interest at heart,” shares Elmore.
In addition to the localized impact that SOL has had in Sandy Bay and West End, the organization also distributes school supplies and backpacks at the beginning of each school year throughout the Roatan Municipality. Approximately 800 backpacks should be distributed in the winter of 2019.
One of the countless individual success stories is Keylin, a young woman who attended SOL programs regularly when she was younger. Today she looks after the kids that come to learn, read, or play. “She has really taken ownership of everything. She organizes all the classes, knows which kids are sick, which kids are not going to school. She is our eyes and ears and knows what’s going on with them,” says Elmore.
SOL provides academic scholarships for students to bilingual private schools and also transportation scholarships because, as Doing explains, “transportation is the only thing preventing them from going to high school.” In 2018 the foundation gave out 42 scholarships.
Monthly donations, one-time donations, and in-kind contributions from individuals coupled with three yearly fundraisers help to keep SOL, a 501 (c)(3)U.S. registered nonprofit, running. “We don’t really solicit. It’s mostly people who recognize what we are doing,” said Elmore. In the beginning SOL started with an annual budget of $7,000. Today the annual operating budget is roughly $180,000. “A large portion of the budget is scholarships here and overseas,” says Elmore.