Editor’s note: This is the third year the Bainbridge Island Review has teamed with Roann Blacker and the BI Rotary Club to have its high school writing interns author stories for the paper. The stories are about people who contribute to the community. The Rotary gives the interns plaques to present to their interviewees at a club meeting.
When a troubling issue presents itself to the world, many may feel empathy but fail to take action. A rare few notice an opportunity to change lives and lead the charge toward making a difference. A Bainbridge Islander is among those rare few.
Alejandro Henao is a first-generation Colombian immigrant and BI resident with a passion for soccer, but also for exposing communities across his homeland to the resources needed to fuel their passion for the game.
Henao’s nonprofit organization Goodplay America brings that passion to life—providing disadvantaged youth in Colombia with proper gear and training.
Henao grew up playing soccer, lining up rocks in his neighborhood park to form a goal where children would play for hours. With access to private education, Hanao was able to study civil engineering at Colombian University. Halfway through his time there, Henao entered an exchange program, where he was given the opportunity to study in the United States.
He quickly saw the opportunity that American schools provided students and later attended graduate school at the University of Colorado. He went on to get his doctorate and now works for the National Renewable Energy Lab. He later moved to BI with children Tomas and Andres (ages 16 and 14). He coached with the BI Football Club in his spare time.
On a trip home to Cali, Colombia, Henao was struck by a group of kids playing soccer barefoot in the street. He had a few pairs of his children’s old cleats, he stopped and hand-delivered them to the children and was struck by their gratitude. He noticed the massive need for equipment and continued to bring more cleats to Cali, even taking those of other BI children who had outgrown their shoes.
As his loads of gear got larger, Henao recognized that his efforts needed structure so he created his nonprofit.
More recently, the organization has started shipping care packages that include cleats, water bottles, athletic shirts and other soccer-related items. To support its efforts, Goodplay America earns funds through donations and the sale of Colombian Coffee available for purchase on its website. Henao views the import of coffee as a way for American communities to learn more about and gain an appreciation for his country.
With the help of BIFC, Good Play America booths have been set up at soccer tournaments and community events across Washington in an effort to raise awareness for the cause.
Goodplay America finds itself increasingly focused on analyzing the needs of young Cali soccer players, gathering input from local coaches, clubs and children around the city while researching what BI can do to promote cultural exchange. The organization is looking beyond basic monthly shipments of cleats and care packages and into exploring the possibility of sending players and coaches from BI to Colombia, facilitating a greater love of and appreciation for the game while also helping the children of Cali become better at the sport.
Henao said soccer offers the kids an escape from rough environments, “getting them off the street” and into a community that encourages good values. It is important to Henao that the world views Colombia with positivity and that his efforts contribute to that vision.
Roann Brumwell is a senior at Bainbridge High School.