By Matt Kane
DELANO, MN In the game of soccer, scoring goals and preventing goals is the recipe for success for a successful team.
Four Delano soccer players have enjoyed success this season by helping their varsity teams score and prevent goals on the pitches in and around Delano, but these four are also working on a different type of goal; a goal that, when reached, will give kids thousands of miles away the chance to experience the joys and successes that come when playing soccer, the world’s game.
Delano High School seniors Will Crowley and Abbie Jo Madson, junior Wyatt Hill and sophomore Aubri Farniok are working together to raise money to build a sustainable soccer field at Our Lady of Guadalupe School (OLoG) in Busolo, Uganda, as part of their Shoot For Change in Uganda campaign.
The Tiger foursome is a crossing pass away from reaching its goal of $11,000 by December. Through fundraising and donations, they had raised almost $9,000 through last week.
“I think we are going to make it. I’m hoping people will see the importance of what we are doing,” Crowley said. “I know we are not building a well and we are not bringing food to the people, but there is more to life than just the necessities.”
The soccer field will be used by the students of OLoG, and will have a retaining wall that will protect the field in washout conditions.
“By providing proper infrastructure for children to play soccer, we strive to create opportunities for children to express themselves, learn to work together as a team, and discover a sense of ambition,” reads Shoot For Change’s mission statement on Razoo.com, a fundraising website.
Shoot for Change was spearheaded by Crowley and Madson, who are captains on the boys and girls varsity soccer teams, respectively, at Delano, after both visited Africa as volunteers on separate missions.
Madson won a seat to Kenya in 2013 with a group of Canadians, and Crowley went to Busolo, Uganda, in 2014, with a group of 27 from the Church of St. Anne in Hamel.
That trip to Uganda in 2014 had Crowley wanting to do more for the OLoG community, where people live on about $200 per year in homes made of homemade bricks or mud, with banana-leaf roofs.
“The whole time I was in Uganda I was looking for something to make a difference. ‘What can I do that will be my own and that I can take on as a project?’” Crowley said Wednesday, sitting at a picnic table adjacent to the plush field his Delano team uses daily. “The first day we were there they showed us a soccer field that was half finished, and that stayed in the back of my mind.”
That field was washed away and another field became off limits to the 350 students of OLoG, who range in age from mid-teens to mid-20s, leaving them without a place to play.
“He is a big picture kind of guy, and he asked ‘How do we help this village,’ from the moment he got there to the moment he left,” said Jeff Reither, who led the Church of St. Anne group to Uganda in 2014. “Will related to that. He wanted to do something about that, and took it on.”
Reither, a Delano father of nine, got in contact with an OLoG nun who figured out the logistics of building a soccer field. He presented the idea and information, and Crowley took off with it, immediately pulling Madson onboard.
“He said, ‘Hey Abbie,’ and I was like ‘What?’ ‘Let’s raise this money to build this field.’ I said, ‘You are crazy. Will, you are 100 percent crazy.’ He was like, ‘No, I think if we work together, we can do this,’” said Madson of Crowley’s initial pitch for what turned into Shoot for Change. “We sat down together, shook hands, and said ‘We are going to do this.’”
Crowley knew he needed Madson on board, as she was the partner who helped him start the youth group J-Walkers in 2014. Madson knew her purpose in the new partnership was to micromanage the big ideas Crowley was known to come up with.
“Will has an entrepreneur mind, where everything is up here; so many great ideas,” she said, her hand above her head. “Whereas, I am an executor.
“Will is a really good talker and he gets people passionate about the program, and I take that and tell them what they can do to donate.”
The partnership between Crowley, Madson, Hill and Farniok opened Reither’s eyes.
“It’s impressive,” Reither said. “Kids are giving people. They see a need and they have no inhibition. They just say, ‘We can do it and we are going to do it.’ They are not afraid to ask and they want to do something about it.”
Shoot for Change in Uganda continues Madson’s lifelong committment to helping the less fortunate. For Crowley, devoting himself to helping others was a way to grieve the sudden death of his father.
Volunteering to help those in need is nothing new to Madson, as she began packing meals at Feed My Starving Children while in elementary school. According to her biography on Razoo, at the age of 8, Madson declared to parents, ‘One day, I am going to help these children,’ referring to the recipients of the food packages.
“Even at a young age, I knew this was what I was called to do. I wanted to be part of the change, and impact children’s lives across the world,” Madson wrote on Razoo. “My dream came true in the summer of 2013.”
In 2013, Madson visited the Maasai Mara region in Kenya, where, in her three weeks as a volunteer, she was constantly reminded that possessions and the latest technology are not the backbone of happiness.
“Everyone I met welcomed me into their lives with joyous and gracious hearts. I noticed that people, who may be poor in money and goods, are rich in love,” she wrote in her Razoo biography. “These people have had a lasting impact on my life, and continue to inspire me, every day.”
Crowley’s life turned upside down near the end of his sophomore year, when, on April 11, 2014, his father, 50-year-old Steve Crowley, was killed in a traffic crash on Highway 12 in Orono.
“I vowed that good would come from this adversity,” said Crowley in his Razoo biography. “From that moment on, helping others (became) my priority.”
Crowley didn’t waste much time in taking on that priority. In July of 2014, just three months after his father’s death, he embarked on the mission trip to Uganda, where, with the group from Church of St. Anne, which included Delano classmates, he helped build Our Lady of Guadalupe High School.
Like Madson’s a year earlier in Kenya, Crowley’s eyes were opened during his first mission trip.
“I have never witnessed such happiness in such strife. These people had so little and yet the joy and gratitude that resonated from them was indescribable,” he said on Razoo. “They became my role models, my heros, and most of all, my family, yet many of them were in desperate need of help. I knew a part of me would be left in Uganda, and that wouldn’t be the last time I walked across this soil.”
Crowley elaborated on those thoughts Wednesday afternoon, just before the start of practice with his Delano team.
“It was a really tough time in my life heading into it. As tough as it was, this was the first step in me realizing this is what I want to do and this is what I am being called to do,” he said of the 2014 trip to Africa, which was scheduled that March, just a month before the crash that took his father’s life.
Crowley said he felt completely comfortable with the people of Busolo.
“I felt so at home in a place that was so far away from home. These people were such role models in how gracious they were and in how excited they were for us to be going out of our way to be with them,” he said. “It totally changed my perspective on how I wanted to live my life.”
Crowley will, again, walk on Ugandan soil July 29, 2016, with Madson, Hill, Farniok and the rest of the mission group from the Church of St. Anne at his side. The group will help celebrate the golden anniversary (50th year) of OLoG school and continue the construction of a science laboratory wing, which Reither is raising $50,000 for. The Shoot for Change contingent of the American group will also take part in the dedication and blessing of the soccer field it funded.
“It will be awesome if the field is done, and even if we have to work on it,” said Crowley.
The deadline of December for the fundraising effort was set to allow time for the money to be wired and the construction to be completed. Crowley is confident the $11,000 goal will be met in time and that the field will be ready for play when the plane full of Americans touches down in Africa in July.
Madson is looking forward to seeing the kids of OLoG playing the game they love on the field she helped build.
“To be able to see the kids run onto the field we made; I will be in tears,” she said Wednesday afternoon, just before the start of her Delano team’s practice. “To be able to play with the kids on the field oh, my God, I’m almost crying now.”
On their previous missions to Africa, both Crowley and Madson were able to kick the soccer ball around with the locals. They found that the little round ball brings people from completely opposite backgrounds together like nothing else could.
“Once you play soccer, all the differences language barrier, skin color and religion all goes away. Everyone is laughing and playing soccer,” said Madson.
The fact that Will, an American giant at 6-foot-5, could play soccer came as a shock to the people of OLoG.
“One of the highlights from my first time there was being able to play soccer with the kids; just a pick-up game,” Crowley said. “It was the funniest thing because none of them expected me to know how to play soccer because I was an American and nobody thinks we play soccer, and I am 6-foot-5.”
Crowley showed he has some skill, but also noted his American team has work to do.
“There is some skill over there,” he said. “We played a game against a team of 20-year olds and we got our butts kicked. It was a little embarrassing but it was all in good fun.”
The addition of Madson, Hill and Farniok three varsity soccer veterans should help the American pick-up team in a friendly game against the natives in July, however, the recruitment of Hill and Farniok by Crowley and Madson to join Shoot for Change had nothing to do with their soccer skills.
“As we spread the word, we found a lot of passionate people out there who were looking for things they were being called to,” Crowley explained. “When you find people who seek you out and tell you, ‘I want to be a part of something special,’ you know you have someone special.”
Crowley found that in Hill.
“Will brought it up, and I said, ‘I want to do that,’ and I have been with them ever since,” said Hill.
“He is a really hard worker,” Madson said of Hill.
Farniok admits she initially blew off the idea of funding a soccer field in Uganda.
“Abbie mentioned it to me and, at first, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s just Will. He has all these ideas.’ And then, at the end of June, I was invited to a soccer meeting.”
Farniok’s company at that soccer meeting consisted of Crowley, Madson and nobody else. The Shoot for Change founders convinced Farniok to help produce a promotional video for the program, and the Delano sophomore has been kicking hard for the cause ever since.
“Abbie and Will are so passionate about this, it is hard to not be passionate about it, myself,” said Farniok.
The biggest question was how to raise so much money.
“I kept wondering how we are going to make $11,000. People are generous, but it was going to take a lot of $25 donations to get there,” Farniok said. “As it went on, it really picked up speed in July and August (2014).”
It took some time for the fundraising effort to gain legs, but eventually word got out and the money came in.
“It took us forever to get out of the gate. We needed our base information and that took forever to get going. We created a Facebook page and a Razoo account and a PowerPoint and a video, and we ran with it,” said Crowley.
The members of Shoot for Change used their soccer connections to get the fundraising campaign going, sending emails to participating families and using a community education movie night to hand out fliers and to air the promotional video. The money trickled in at first, but, then, suddenly, donation chunks ranging in the hundreds and, sometimes, thousands of dollars started popping up in the account.
“Now that we have the exposure, I think one more round of fundraising will help us reach the goal,” said Madson.
For Hill and Farniok, the trip to Africa next summer will be their first. They will go with only stories and accounts told by Crowley and Farniok to lean on when trying to grasp expectations of the Busolo culture.
“I think it will be a huge shock,” said Hill. “I have been up north to Red Lake and have seen the poverty up there, but I think this will be a lot different.”
The common claim from Crowley and Madson is that the people of Busolo are grateful and happy.
“They have told me how life-changing it is. I always think about how fortunate we are, but they always remind me about how happy these people are,” Farniok said. “There are people (in Delano) who are not happy with everything they have, and those people (in Busolo) have nothing and are the happiest, smiliest kids you will ever meet. Seeing them will be a life-changing experience, and it will make me so much more grateful for the things we have here.”
Hill looks forward to seeing those smiley faces, and he looks forward to sampling the highly-touted menu Crowley brags about.
“I am so excited. I really want to meet these people, and see if they are as grateful as Will has said. That is really hard to find these days,” said Hill. “(Will) said the food is really good there chapots. I’m pumped about that.”
For Farniok, next summer’s trip to Uganda makes up for a narrowly-missed opportunity to go to Africa a few years back. Ironically, she lost out to Madson in a contest for that spot to go to Kenya in 2013.
Both Crowley and Madson are excited to present a whole new world to their Delano friends and teammates.
“All the great things I experienced there; being able to share that with people is a really powerful thing,” Crowley said. “Bringing really good people I know well; I am excited for them to grow and experience this with.”
While many of the American faces will be new to the people of the OLoG community, Crowley hopes he sees some familiar faces during his return visit.
“We spent a lot of time with the girls of the prep school where we stayed. I’m hoping not all of them graduated,” he said, referring to his fist visit. “We met a lot of good people and there are a lot of friendly faces I hope to see when I go back.”
The Shoot for Change group is sure to see a lot of faces when they visit Busolo next summer, and one can bet that the majority of those faces will be highlighted by smiles.
“One of my favorite things about volunteering is seeing people smile and knowing you helped make that smile,” Madson said. “That’s the greatest thing ever; I love it so much.”
More information about Shoot for Change in Uganda and the means to donate to the cause can be found on Razoo.com. Photos from Will Crowley and Abbie Jo Madson’s previous trips to Africa, as well as a link to the Razoo page can be found on Facebook.