When a Santo Domingo soccer team visited Lebanon, Tennessee, they built on a 50-year legacy of youth programs with the Tennessee Partners and Chapters and organizations in Venezuela, Amazonas, Brazil, and most recently, the Dominican Republic.
The spring soccer program for youth ages 10-12 included the Santo Domingo Dragons from the Dominican Republic and the Wilson United Soccer League from Lebanon, Tennessee. After arriving in Tennessee, the 14 Dominican players and four coaches and trainers enjoyed a variety of activities supported by the local soccer associations and the Tennessee Partners. These included: soccer games with players from Wilson United; tours in Nashville of the Frist Art Museum, the Parthenon, and the State Capital; and visits with State Representative Clark Boyd and Wilson County Mayor Randal Hutto. Their local hosts treated them to a cookout, a pool party, and a tour of the Wilson County Veterans Museum. Further, they had a recreational experience in the country at the Barefoot Republic Camp in Barren, Kentucky.
A Lebanon-based group of Tennessee Partners – Brad Major, Hugo Sandoval, and David McKinney – worked with leaders, Rochelle Prit and Bob Zenker from Wilson United and Shane Barret of the soccer association, Eagle Express, on this phase of the soccer exchange. Brad Major, Secretary of the Tennessee Partners, visited Santo Domingo in the summer of 2017 and met with our Dominican colleague, Waldo Brea, and others to discuss the logistics of the April visit and assess the possibility of a reciprocal exchange with Wilson County in the future.
The visit of the Santo Domingo Dragons soccer team in April is the third youth sports activity bringing young players from the Dominican Republic to Lebanon Tennessee since 2015. Our colleague, Waldo Brea, organized tours of baseball players from Santo Domingo to Wilson County to participate in a highly competitive regional baseball tournament which is annually held in Lebanon. Prior to these visits, the Tennessee Partners and Cumberland University, in 2013, hosted a group of coaches from Venezuela for the Partners of the Americas Win-Win program, which explored strategies for involving greater numbers of young women from lower socioeconomic groups in competitive sports. Also, in 2005, a baseball team from Venezuela toured Nashville and was hosted by families in Lebanon.
Across the state in Johnson City, Tennessee Partners Vice President Charles Carter from 2004 to 2017 hosted more than 17 delegations of Youth Ambassadors and Youth Leaders. This U.S. State Department-sponsored program brought over 170 high school students and 35 adults from six countries to Washington, DC and then to eastern Tennessee. Students from South America and the Caribbean had the unique opportunity to explore first-hand leadership, volunteerism, civic engagement, local culture, and much more in Tennessee.
The current youth programs have drawn knowledge, commitment, and connections from dozens of youth-focused initiatives involving sports and cultural/education exchanges between the Tennessee Partners and the relating Chapters in Venezuela and Amazonas, Brazil from the late 1960s to 2000. One exemplary exchange brought renown Tennessee basketball coach Rogers Baker and his family to Caracas, Venezuela for 12 months to work with under-privileged Venezuelan youth on basic basketball skills. Another outstanding project was the visit of the Grupo Criollo – a Venezuelan youth folkloric music group – who toured schools and institutions of higher education throughout Tennessee during the fall of 1987. During this time, the Partners of the Americas-administered Atlantic Fellowship program brought many undergraduate and graduate students from Amazonas, Brazil to study at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and Vanderbilt University.
Reviewing these many joint efforts in youth programs between Tennessee and its counterpart chapters and organizations in South America and the Caribbean, we can say that we have helped fulfill the Kennedy Administration’s vision for Partners of expanding enduring "grass-roots" engagements North to South and South to North. We continue to make a better future for our citizens and communities through this process.