Two foundations founded by two legendary athletes with similar missions to support youth have now joined forces. The Sanneh Foundation (TSF) and the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation hope their new partnership can better address the “ton of need” they see among youth in the community.
St. Paul-born Tony Sanneh started TSF in 2004, five years before he retired after a successful 15-year pro soccer career. According to his website, TSF’s commitment is to meet the “holistic youth development needs” of Twin Cities youth through in-school and after-school education, health and wellness, and community-building programming.
East St. Louis-born Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who Sports Illustrated named the greatest female athlete of the 20th Century, started her foundation to promote success among low-income youth in 1988 – the same year the four-time Olympian set her still-intact world record in the heptathlon.
“I took my sponsorship money and invested it into different programs for young people,” Joyner-Kersee explained during a May 31 appearance at the American College of Sports Medicine annual conference in Minneapolis. She then announced that Sanneh, a 2017 Soccer Hall of Fame inductee, would incorporate her Winning in Life program in his foundation’s various youth initiatives.
The program’s main purpose is to “instill youth…with the dream, drive, and determination necessary to succeed in academics, athletics and leadership. I was able to take it out of my head and onto paper to booklet form,” Joyner-Kersee told the MSR afterwards.
“We will be working together…to be able to reach hopefully not just people in this community but also across the nation,” said Joyner-Kersee about the new partnership. She added that the Winning in Life program could possibly serve as national model for working with youth. “Being able to connect with Tony and for him to be involved with the kids…is a tremendous boost for us to get it out there,” she added.
Partnering with her was a natural fit, said Sanneh. “We are both like-minded and former athletes. We hit it off right away. She is a giver, a very kind individual, a true champion.”
Sanneh said he believes Joyner-Kersee’s program will work great in the Twin Cities. “We work with thousands of kids, and now we have research-based curriculum that works for us,” he said. “We are doing a holistic wrap-around approach built on equity.
“They have invested a lot of money in quality programming and curriculum,” he continued. “We are taking that curriculum and implementing it with the kids we have,” he told the MSR. “They will get one hour, three days a week of classroom curriculum designed and implemented with help from the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation.”
According to the TSF website, 85 hours of community programming each week and 30,000 hours of academic intervention are provided in nearly 17 public middle and high schools in Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Cloud and Rochester. “Eighty percent of my staff is of color to build relationships with kids in the school buildings,” Sanneh noted.
His foundation also signed a three-year agreement with the City of St. Paul to manage operations and provide programming at Conway Recreation Center, which at one time was in danger of closing, but is now open daily for both youth and adults providing various activities, including free meals.
A new indoor basketball court was installed earlier this summer at Conway, thanks to a partnership with TSF and the Minnesota Timberwolves FastBreak Foundation. TSF is among 300 local organizations the NBA-WNBA franchises work with.
Timberwolves-Lynx Vice President of Community Engagement John Thomas stressed that the partnership with TSF is a first step in a new direction for the FastBreak Foundation as it evaluates how it can be more effective.
“It’s a challenge to really look at the programs that really create meaningful impact,” the Minneapolis-born Thomas said. “Part of that is partnering with those [organizations] doing a real good job…in the community.
“When you look at changing, it’s giving the things people need immediately, and philanthropy is going for a longer impact. These kids have needs. There is a ton of need out there. We want to make sure we can address some of those needs…everything from social influence to player engagement. There are a lot of good things we can do together. Impact is really the keyword,” said Thomas.
“We just know we are trying to provide for a need,” Sanneh said of TSF. “Our programs are fun and inclusive. I want to help kids.”
Joyner-Kersee concluded, “At this point in my life, I think when you are trying to inspire young people to be winners in life, [you must] really take these principles off the pages and have real-life action. I wanted to be [more] than a news clipping or be on television.
“We have the ability to inspire young people… to be the best you can be, have a dream and live up to it, and be accountable.”