Two Smithtown alumni will depart Long Island on Monday for the Republic of Cameroon, where they will represent the Rush Soccer organization's REACH Program as coaches and will deliver soccer balls, cleats, jerseys and other gear donated by their home communities.
Cara Nelson, a 2004 graduate of Smithtown West, and Alexander Mendolia, a 2007 graduate of Smithtown East, are coaches with the Stony Brook Soccer Club. They are two of the four Rush Soccer affiliated coaches from the U.S. chosen to make the trip with the REACH Program, which stands for "Rush Equipment Assisting Children."
Among the preparations they have made: obtaining the yellow fever vaccination mandatory for them to be able to enter Cameroon and taking malaria pills to guard against the deadly disease. They will also pack huge suitcases with donated gear and equipment to take with them when they leave for their 26-day trip.
Nelson has actually spent time in Africa previously; when she first graduated from SUNY Geneseo, she and a friend spent six months teaching in Tanzania.
"The biggest thing I think I'm looking forward to is the cooperative exchange of ideas and experiences," she said. "I'm hoping that they learn as much from me in terms of my coaching knowledge and soccer experience as I learn from them."
Mendolia said he is excited for the "helping others" aspect of the trip.
"Pretty much I’ve always been interested in helping children," he said. "To have the opportunity to go there and bring them equipment that they don't have makes it that much more worthwhile."
The Three Village Soccer Club made a large donation of equipment and gear for Nelson and Mendolia to take with them on their trip.
"They are tremendous coaches and role models to our children here at Three Village Soccer Club," the club said in a statement to Patch. "We know they will have a positive influence on the children they interact with. We are proud to have them as coaches in our soccer club and excited that they were selected as part of the REACH program."
According to Rush Soccer, Cameroon is the birthplace of a number of African soccer legends, and is known for a successful national team. "Soccer is the world’s game and everyone can play at some level," the organization says on its website.