Several months ago, Michael Soares was playing basketball with Pierre Valmera and they started discussing fitness training. Soares was a standout at Milford and played college basketball at Bridgewater State University, where he studied kinesiology. After graduating from BSU, he opened an online training company, New Human Project.
Valmera is the president and founder of Power Forward International, a non-profit organization that runs basketball camps in his native Haiti with the goal of creating sport and educational opportunities for Haitian youth.
When Valmera found out that Soares was interested in training and had a background in collegiate basketball, he asked him to join the cause and help out with the next clinic. It didn’t take much convincing to get Soares involved and he then asked his former Bridgewater State teammate (and former Mansfield standout) Rocky DeAndrade to take part as well.
“Right on the spot, I was like, hell yeah, why not?” Soares explained. “I reached out to Rocky because he and I have been doing a lot of stuff together and had been reaching out to a lot of YMCAs and middle schools and stuff about the importance of fitness and basketball.”
In December, Soares and DeAndrade traveled to Port-au-Prince. For both, it was their first visit to Haiti and it put into perspective the importance of giving back.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” Soares said. “The local people were super nice, but it was crazy to see the state where people were living their day-to-day lives.”
The clinic featured nearly 400 kids between the ages of 8-18. While Soares and DeAndrade had run clinics before, including one of the clinics sponsored by Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter this past summer, this was a significantly larger audience than usual. Soares said, “The kids were so nice. They were the most attentive kids I’ve ever been around.”
Language was a major concern at the start of the clinic, as only a handful of the kids spoke any English, but as it turned out that became a non-issue once the training began. Soares put them through a series of workouts, including stretches, squats, lunges, and more.
“It was so exhilarating,” Soares reflected. “It was really cool seeing all the kids and every time we finished something all the kids cheered and clapped. Honestly, it was one of the highest feelings I’ve ever gotten.”
Basketball became a universal language at the clinic, transcending any cultural differences. It was also clear from the start that the kids would have no problem picking up a game that many of them had never played before.
Soares marveled, “It was crazy how quick these kids picked up the drills. A lot of the kids hadn’t played basketball before and they were learning how to dunk on the spot. I was like, this is absurd. There’s so much talent and raw athleticism out there.”
He added, “We couldn’t communicate with hundreds of the kids at the camp but we can communicate through basketball and seeing their reactions when we taught them something new and they were able to do it. Seeing the reaction on their faces was interesting because I never thought I’d be able to communicate with someone who didn’t speak the same language as me.”
The clinic was more than just an opportunity to spread the sport to a new audience. As Soares noted, many of the kids that attended were there for a meal. Power Forward International, with help from Soares and DeAndrade, raised enough money for 400 meals, 200 backpacks, and new clothes for the attendees. “Some of the kids bused in from five hours away,” Soares said. “It was just simple rice and chicken but some of the kids said it was the most filling meal of the year.”
Soares has made a point of donating his time and a percentage of the money he has raised from his New Human Project to children’s health organizations. Being able to assist so many Haitian kids through fitness and basketball has inspired him to expand his efforts to help kids locally. He and DeAndrade have talked about running 100 camps to give back.
“Rocky and I are very like-minded,” he said. “When we were in Haiti, we were going over our business goals and professional goals and none of them ever had to do with benefitting ourselves but they were about helping others. We mesh really well, so we’ll be doing more of what we did in Haiti.”
A number of the kids from the clinic have reached out to Soares through social media to say thank you and to share videos of workouts in Haiti. As someone who has played sports at a high level for years and whose career is based on fitness, it is gratifying to see the impact that the clinic has had for so many kids.
“Even though they don’t have anything, they’re still working on their game,” Soares said, while describing videos of kids using creative methods to keep working out, such as using cinder blocks in the middle of the street.
“Basketball is a way of giving these kids life skills. It’s a way of giving them something to focus on instead of not working on anything or having no goals. Basketball, or sports in general, gives them life lessons and life goals to accomplish.
For more information about Power Forward International, visit https://pfii.org/.