The North Bend Eagle


Locals help island kids prepare to 'Play ball!'

by Nathan Arneal
Published 4/6/22

The island of Roatan is 36 miles long, 5.5 miles wide and sits about 30 miles off the gulf coast of Honduras.

It is a study of contrasts. The largest luxury cruise ships in the world pay daily visits to the port in Coxen Hole, dumping thousands of tourists onto the island’s pristine beaches for the day.

But if you get away from the beaches, resorts and cruise ships, you’ll find poverty aplenty.

Like anywhere in the world, you’ll find kids out playing and making the best of it – kids who only recently returned to school after the COVID-19 pandemic.

You might notice some of these kids have a cereal box stuffed with grass tied to their hand as they toss ragged balls back and forth. These kids love their baseball.

Several years ago the love of America’s pastime that has taken root on a Honduran island planted a seed in the mind of Pat Tawney: maybe next time they visit Roatan they can bring some baseball equipment to donate to the local kids.

“Our intention was maybe one carry-on and stuff it full,” Tawney said. “We thought maybe 10 gloves and maybe 20 baseballs or something.”

Earlier this year the Tawneys helped deliver 50 to 60 baseball gloves, 225 baseballs, 130 uniforms, 15 bats, 50 to 60 hats and two bat bags to Roatan.

Several years ago Pat and Jolene Tawney were vacationing in Belize in Central America. Another vacationer they met told them, “If you like Belize, you should visit Roatan.”

Pat Tawney plays catch with budding star shortstop Jordan. There are about 150 kids in the baseball program at the SOL Foundation.

They had never heard of Roatan, but after some Googling they decided to make the island their next destination. The Tawneys fell in love with the place and have been back seven or eight times since.

They made friends during the repeated visits that they saw year after year, both full-time residents of the island and vacationers like themselves.

On one of those trips, they were taking a stroll on the beach and struck up a conversation with another couple, big Yankee fans. They mentioned to the Tawneys how much the local kids liked baseball and needed equipment.

The seed was planted.

Before traveling down to Roatan this year, Pat posted a request on Facebook for any baseball equipment they could take to the island.
A few North Bend friends responded and sent over some gloves. Then a co-worker of Pat’s saw the post and things started to happen. So much that Pat took down the Facebook post.

The co-worker put Pat in touch with Saul Soltero, who works for an organization called PACE: Police Athletics for Community Engagement, a group that provides mentoring and sports opportunities to underserved youth in South Omaha.

Tawney met with Soltero, who offered him excess baseball gear that had been donated to PACE that the organization didn’t have a use for. That included brand new baseball gloves, bats, balls and over 100 PACE uniform shirts.

Tawney said Soltero was tickled to see the gear given to kids who would really need and appreciate it.

The seed planted on a tropical beach years ago has now born fruit. The next step was to get that fruit down to the kids on Roatan.

They stuffed a few items into a carry-on suitcase. Most of it would be shipped down. They discovered that the shipping cost was done by volume, not weight, so they stuffed it all into two boxes.

“We set the boxes against the wall and three of us pushed the lids shut so we could get the first tape over the top,” Pat Tawney said.

The boxes were shipped to Florida, the end of the line for the U.S. Postal Service. Then onto a ship bound for Honduras. The Tawneys crossed their fingers that the gear would arrive at its intended destination, and if they were really lucky, the boxes would arrive while they were in Roatan in late February and early March.

Sandy Bay is just under two miles as the crow flies from Roatan’s largest city, Coxen Hole, where the colossal cruise ships dock. Most of the kids in Sandy Bay have never been there, so close, yet so far away. Poverty, drugs and trouble lurk behind every palm tree for young residents of Sandy Bay, Roatan.

Dave Elmore wanted to do something about that. He was as school teacher from Ashville, North Carolina, vacationing on Roatan in 2005. An illness kept him in Roatan longer than planned, and he started playing stick ball with local kids after school.

A seed was planted.

More and more kids started showing up. Soon Elmore started a foundation, registered as a 501(c)3 non profit back in North Carolina with the goal of giving kids something constructive to do. It was named the SOL International Foundation. SOL stands for School of Life.


Read the full story in the print or e-edition.

<<Back to the front page