[private] School of Life (SOL) International Foundation has come a long way since co-founder Dave Elmore, then a physical education teacher at Sandy Bay Alternative School, started playing stick ball with neighborhood kids eight years ago.
“We’re starting to expand to where we’re almost $100,000 a year,” said Mark Flanagan, SOL’s program director, at a recent briefing at Bananarama in West Bay. “The majority of that goes directly into scholarships.”
SOL also supports youth sports and other activities aimed at “helping kids and trying to improve the quality of life of those kids,” said Flanagan.
As Flanagan tells it, Elmore, who is still SOL’s athletic program director, was “just out at the courts one day” doing PE classes when young people from the neighborhood started coming around and said, “I’d like to play ball.”
“So literally it started with a tennis ball and a stick,” he said, and evolved over the years “just by him (Elmore) being dedicated and having that vision, and then different members of the community coming together to make it happen.”
The concrete courts where it all started, adjacent to Anthony’s Key Resort, were made available for SOL’s use by the Galindo Family, which owns the resort. “They actually installed the lights for us and they paid for all the electricity,” Flanagan said.
SOL uses the Galindo Courts not just for sporting activities but as a sort of community center for area youth, with supervised, structured activities. “It’s somewhere that the kids can go and there’s no fighting, no drugs and no alcohol,” Flanagan said. “Every night the kids are able to go out and play and hang out.”
In late September SOL was getting ready to start another season of adult co-ed softball, which is an important fundraising source. Registration fees paid by the adults and the concession sales from their games go to support the youth baseball league.
During October, SOL will be holding its annual Golden Buoy competition, now in its seventh year. Dive shops compete throughout the month to raise the most money.
“They just do crazy events; whatever you can imagine,” said Flanagan. “Sometimes they do underwater Easter egg hunts…Whoever raises the most money wins the Golden Buoy.”
Last year Coconut Tree Divers organized an Iron Chef competition as part of its Golden Buoy fundraising effort, which Flanagan said was the best event of the year. Six restaurants competed to come up with the most interesting dish using a main ingredient that was not announced until the day of the event.
The Golden Buoy competition ends with the one-day Dive Shop Olympics. Each shop pays Lps. 500 to participate, and the winner gets to count the entire amount of the registration fees toward its Golden Buoy total. Businesses donate prizes.
Events include the three-legged snorkel, a hot-dog eating contest that is said to be not for family viewing and an equipment set-up race.
Flanagan said SOL planned to use funds and donated labor from this year’s Golden Buoy competition to upgrade both the Galindo Courts and the Field of Dreams baseball park outside West End, including bleachers for the volleyball courts, a scoreboard for the baseball field, batting cages, a cover for the concession stand, pic-nic tables and completion of the first-base line.
Flanagan said SOL was registered as a 501(c)(3) organization under US tax laws, so that contributions to the organization are deductible from US income taxes, and it files the required documents every year.
“Anyone who wants to see our last tax return, I’m more than willing to show it to you, so you see where the money is actually going,” he said.
But SOL relies at least as much on donations of people’s time as of their cash.
“If anybody has any skills or talents that they’re interested in sharing, there’s always something you can do,” said Flanagan.
“If you are a musician and you want to give music lessons, I can find a kid who wants to have music lessons. If you’re a tennis player and you want to teach a kid to play tennis, I can find a kid who wants to play tennis. If you’re a swim instructor and you want some kids to start a swim course, I can get those kids for you.
“The whole idea is to try to get people more integrated in the community in which we choose to live.”