The dorm lobby at the European Championships in Budapest is a wonderful assembly of friendly lacrosse faces from across the globe. While one might assume attendance would be limited to only people from Europe, that’s just not the case at all. For starters, there seem to be more and more American fans arriving. It’s pretty impressive how far this event reaches!
Over the past week, I’ve become familiar with quite a few regular faces. But when I noticed a new family walking by wearing Croatia Lacrosse gear and carrying three large boxes of equipment, my attention was grabbed. Next, my eyebrow raised, and my curiosity made it impossible to simply let this family walk by.
I guess I expected that the Voelker family would have an interesting story. What I didn’t anticipate was the depth of the impact this wonderful American family has had in the lacrosse world over the past two-plus years.
The charge is being led by Jack and his younger sister Kate, with parents Chris and Anne helping to make it all happen. Jack and Kate were delivering their latest donation of 16 helmets, 20 chest protectors, 20 pairs of gloves/elbows, 30+ balls, and roughly enough sticks to field a team. This particular set of equipment has been brought over to start a Hungarian youth lacrosse team.
Since 2015, Jack and Kate have collected enough equipment in their hometown of Manhasset, New York to successfully equip players in Serbia, Kenya, Columbia, and now Croatia and Hungary. They’ve collected old and gently used items in three separate big equipment drives, plus they also encounter the occasional pile of gear on their doorstep when they pull into the driveway.
Collecting gear for teams in Europe and beyond is one thing, but delivering it is another. The logistics of shipping and transportation can be harrowing and discouraging, but the seasoned Voelkers have been able to get official letters declaring that the equipment they’re bringing over is for donation and not for sale, and airlines have, for the most part, been very accommodating in not charging baggage fees. Getting a signed letter from the FIL representative on official letterhead is just a matter of getting a hold of the right person in a specific country, and then it’s just a matter of keeping up a dialogue with the airlines, as to hopefully avoid any surprises at the airport.
As if donating boxes and boxes of equipment to developing countries wasn’t enough for me to love this family instantly, Jack went on to tell me about their recent participation with the Shootout for Soldiers in Long Island this Summer. His team not only participated in the most successful Shootout for Soldiers event ever in terms of total funds raised, but he was a member of the team that was able to raise the most amount of any other team attending the event.
Every team who raised over $5,000 was able to keep their uniforms, and for raising the most money, roughly $7,800, the team earned the privilege of being coached by Duke head coach John Danowski. Not to mention the intrinsic rewards of raising funds to help serve those who’ve served us.
Youth lacrosse is very much tied to trying to help make the world a better place in Manhasset. The “Lead The Way” fund in honor American soldier James R. Regan who unfortunately lost his life while serving the United States. This is where Jack has gotten his sense of helping others through donations and giving his time.
“Jimmy’s Field” is where he learned to play the game, and seeing how wonderful it has been for his own self, Jack now looks to lead the way in making this game available to those less fortunate.
Growing up in the affluence and privilege of not just a wealthy Long Island suburb, but in the United States as a whole, really does make it easy to forget to give back when you can. You really always can give back. Maybe it’s an old stick. Maybe it stars with just a couple hours of your time or the mountain of old lacrosse t-shirts perpetually growing in your basement.
Jack acknowledges his American privilege, and he’s done more for new players all over the world than most of us ever will. Now Jack and Kate are working with their parents toward getting their very own 501c3 non-profit “All Latitudes Lacrosse” off the ground in the near future.
Oh, and Jack’s birthday is today. He turns 10. In Budapest. In Europe. While donating lacrosse equipment to a youth program. I don’t specifically remember my tenth birthday, but I’m sure it was much different. Jack wins.
We love Jack and Kate. Our sport needs more Jacks and Kates. Europe needs more Jacks and Kates. The world needs more Jacks and Kates.