Gomez Laleau, director and founder of the Little Haiti Football Club, received a phone call during the holiday season from two high school students interested in raising money to donate equipment to his nonprofit soccer club organization.
“I thought it was a prank call,” he said. “You normally see these efforts from organizations or adults, not kids their age.”
Max De Witte, 17, and Stefano Marconi, 16, both juniors at Riviera Preparatory School, are the two students who contacted Laleau. At the start of this year’s holiday season they saw something different that inspired them and led them to create Bulldogs Sharing Goals, a fundraising campaign whose goal is to make a difference in the community through the universal game of soccer.
Every year, the boys participate with the YMCA of South Florida in handing out Thanksgiving baskets to lower-income communities. While delivering the baskets, Max saw a young boy playing soccer in his front yard with a plastic Coca-Cola bottle.
“I realized you don’t have to travel far to see that there are kids who could use a helping hand,” Max said.
That day, he and Stefano, who both play on the Riviera Preparatory varsity soccer team, bought the young boy a new soccer ball and delivered it to his home.
“All you need to do to start is light a match, and this is what they’ve done,” said Lynn De Witte, Max’s mother.
The boys began by writing a letter to their school’s administration, faculty and staff, in which they proposed the project and asked for support. The school and their soccer team got on board and the fundraising began Dec. 1 with a baked goods and pizza sale at the school.
Since then they have received donations and contributions from many different parts of the community.
“They have a way with reaching people’s hearts, it has created a trickle effect and expanded awareness,” Lynn De Witte said.
The project received a $500 gift card from Publix and an ice cream sandwich discount from Dairy Queen. The boys also obtained “Bulldogs Sharing Goals” T-shirts for their soccer team from Graffic Traffic, and Soccer Locker agreed to donate jerseys and sell the equipment at cost.
They also launched a GoFundMe page, in which they set a goal of $3,500 and have reached $3,160 in 11 days.
The main fundraiser will be a game between the Riviera Bulldogs and the Little Haiti FC at the Riviera Preparatory soccer field on Feb. 3. Ticket sales will go toward fundraising, and at the end of the game the boys will exchange jerseys as a sign of solidarity and brotherhood.
“We are all different, but here on the field we are the same,” Max said.
Max and Stefano did not expect their desire to help their community would gain so much ground so quickly. They hope this might be a start to helping other communities in the future through the brotherhood of sport.
“It’s not about the hours,” Max said. “We are going to remember this when we are 40.”
Laleau, who is still at times in disbelief of the boy’s initiative, is very excited about bringing his Little Haiti FC team together with the Riviera Bulldogs.
“Always think: I cannot be successful if my surroundings are not successful. I hope this echoes in everybody’s mind,” Laleau said.
Some of the kids on the Little Haiti FC team are new to the U.S, he said, and something like this shows them the mindset of community and unity.
“As old as I am to teach them, they are actually teaching me,” he said.