The Valparaiso University men’s soccer program is teaming up with St. Lucian reggae artist Taj Weekes and his children’s charity, They Often Cry Outreach (TOCO), to help launch the “Sneakers Not Wheelchairs” campaign - a public health initiative that will target the diabetes crisis in St. Lucia. The Crusaders will conduct a fundraiser during the home opener at Brown Field on September 6th at 5:00 p.m. against nationally-ranked Michigan.
The “Sneakers Not Wheelchairs” campaign is a direct reference to the growing diabetes epidemic in St. Lucia, which owns the highest rate of diabetes per capita in the world and where there is reportedly an estimated two amputations per day due to diabetes-related illnesses. Many become shut-ins because they are wheelchair bound, so the “Sneakers not Wheelchairs” campaign encourages St. Lucians to get up, put on their sneakers and exercise rather than become part of this alarming statistic.
TOCO is a U.S.-based not-for-profit organization founded by St. Lucian reggae artist Taj Weekes and is dedicated to improving the lives of underprivileged, at-risk and orphaned children in the Caribbean through sport, enrichment, educational and wellness programs. TOCO HEALTH targets the diabetes crisis in St. Lucia which can only be described as epidemic.
During Diabetes Awareness Month in November, TOCO will bring blood glucose meters, test strips, educational and nutritional materials and several volunteer doctors to St. Lucia for a health fair and Annual Fun Walk to promote health and exercise in St. Lucia and encourage St. Lucians to opt for “Sneakers not Wheelchairs”. The goal of the “Sneakers not Wheelchairs” campaign is to raise awareness of this epidemic by getting kids to play soccer, eat right, and eventually eliminate diabetes in St. Lucia permanently.
The Valparaiso men’s soccer program first became involved with TOCO early in the 2008 season when it received an e-mail from the organization asking for donations of used soccer equipment. At the same time, head coach Mike Avery had recently returned from a trip to the Caribbean, where he had witnessed first-hand many of the conditions that TOCO was created to help fight. The Crusader players and coaches decided to support TOCO by sending the organization some of its older equipment, forming a partnership that has grown over the past year.
"We are very excited to team up with Taj Weekes and TOCO to support the wonderful 'Sneakers not Wheelchairs' initiative,” said Avery. “Soccer and music are two of the most powerful change agents in the world, and it is exciting for our little soccer team to play a small role in bringing TOCO's vision into reality. I hope many people in the Valparaiso community will come out to support us against a good Michigan team next Sunday, but will also take the chance to help TOCO make a lasting difference in people's lives."
The fundraiser at the home opener will help TOCO purchase supplies for November’s mission trip. The program is waiving the standard admission charge for the game against the Wolverines, and will instead be taking cash and check donations to help purchase new medical supplies to help provide resources to the population affected with diabetes. Fans may also bring any new, packaged medical supplies, as well as gently used soccer equipment, that they wish to donate to the cause. The Crusaders will continue to accept any donations throughout the season as well as they continue their partnership with TOCO into the 2009 season and beyond.