By Oscar Wolfe
I met Sam Shapiro (currently 18) when he did a presentation about his non-profit for my Hebrew School class. I was so impressed that he had created his own international non-profit at such a young age (16). I thought, “How can I possibly not do an interview with him?” Sam’s organization is called Sprint to Cite Soleil. Cite Soleil is an extremely poor city in Haiti. It’s also the hometown of Sam’s adopted brother. After visiting Cite Soleil, Sam decided that he wanted to help, and he decided to this through basketball. Sprint to Cite Soleil has basketball practice for kids in Cite Soleil every Saturday and Sunday. They also do things such as providing food and community cleanups. So let’s hear it from the founder himself, Sam Shapiro.
What does your organization do?
Sprint to Cite Soleil works along with Cite Soleil Haiti’s youth to inspire, empower, and create peace. And right now one of the main ways we’re doing that is through basketball. Cite Soleil is known to be a very poor and impoverished place. It has a pretty bad reputation. We use basketball as a platform to give kids a place to grow and become young leaders.
How did you come up with the idea for Sprint to Cite Soleil, and why did you start it?
When I was in eighth grade, my family adopted a kid named Marc-Arthur from Haiti who we had previously hosted for a soccer tournament. And I was really interested in where he grew up. I wanted to learn more about him as a person, and his culture. And so I went down to Haiti with another organization and I actually met up with his (biological) brother. He actually walked me through an abandoned basketball court. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but when I was back in the US after seeing where my brother had grown up for the first 15 years of his life, I wanted to really do something to help his community. I remembered walking through that abandoned basketball court. And I thought that might be a really cool platform to build help. Since I didn’t live down there or know much about the community, I wanted to connect with the right people and make an impact. It’s important that I work with the community.
“Don’t underestimate the amount of power you have.” — Sam Shapiro, 18
So you sort of supply them with the resources to carry out their needs?
Yes but also we like to keep a lot of it in Haiti. For example when we buy food, we are not doing FMSC (Feed My Starving Children) food. FMSC is great, but it’s a very short term solution because you’re just sending food down and then the supply goes away. We buy all our food from local people in Haiti so we can hopefully support the economy and the hope is that one day we don’t have to keep sending money down because the program can support itself in Haiti.
Did you have a lot of help from adults?
At the time I was 16. I couldn’t even put money into the bank. So I had a lot of help with that stuff. I tried to keep it so that it was mostly me because wanted to pour my heart into it and I wanted to make the vision. had. But I did have a lot of help from my mom and my dad and then my partner Jack helped a ton especially when we started the organization.
How did your trip to Cite Soleil change your view of things?
I think when you’re down there, and you see kids who are benefiting from the things you worked hard on, you think: This is paying off. I met a couple of kids personally who I see when I go down there. It motivates me because I don’t want to let the kids down.
Is there something that you wish people in America would know so that they could better understand people all around the world, especially people in bad situations like the kids you’re helping in Haiti?
Recognize the opportunities that you’re given. And really appreciate the things you might take for granted. For example, a lot of the kids in Haiti don’t grow up with support from their parents. As young as 5, they roam the streets or are in orphanages.
Do you ever feel almost guilty because you have all of these privileges that the kids you’re helping in Haiti don’t? And if so, how do you deal with it?
I just think it’s important for me to recognize where I am. I wouldn’t say I ever feel guilty, because I’ve put my heart into this. It’s important for me to know that I can’t help everyone. It’s not that simple. But it’s definitely hard when i come back from a trip and I’m just expected to pick everything up how I left it—after seeing kids who don’t have food. It’s hard, but I try not to feel guilty. Just take stuff one step at a time.
How was your relationship with your adopted brother Marc-Arthur in the beginning and how has that changed?
I didn’t really know much about his culture. So that was kind of difficult for me at first because I didn’t know how I could relate to him. Although we had come from very different part of the world and had very different experiences, we shared a lot of characteristics and he was only one year older than me. We both love soccer, we like hip hop and rap music, we liked going outside, and playing basketball. So there was a big connection right away. He didn’t speak english very well, so a lot of our communication was done differently at first. He’s in college now so I don’t get to spend as much time with him, but our relationship has gotten stronger. Although our cultures are different, I still see him as my brother.
What are you planning on for your future and how will that change Sprint to Cite Soleil?
I’m planning to work with it directly no matter what. It’s something that’s really close to me. It’s not something that I see myself giving up or slowing down on. I’m also really excited for college. I see it as another community to reach out to. I’m going to Wake Forest University in North Carolina.
What’s next for Sprint to Cite Soleil?
We want to implement bigger food programs. So we can feed the kids every single day they come. We should be able to do that by the end of the year. We also want to pay the cooks and coaches more. We want to get our own facility so we can get more kids involved.
What advice would you have for kids or teens who want to do something similar to what you have done, or just something great in general?
Don’t underestimate the amount of power you have. And if you’re really passionate about something, go for it. A lot of people are surprised at how much they can accomplish—especially kids.
Learn more about how you can help Sprint to Cite Soleil.