Jack Voelker All Latitudes Lacrosse: Our 2024 Scholarship Winner

Our top Build a Better Future Scholarship winner for 2024 was Jack Voelker. Being the top winner means that he also received a $5,000 grant to further the work of his project in addition to a $10,000 college scholarship. 

In Jack’s version of building a better future, he started with a simple observation while visiting Croatia. He writes, 

“I am a dual Croatian-American citizen, and my family and I regularly go there to visit relatives. Being an avid lacrosse player, I went to a local scrimmage. This would have been the end of my experience but for one observation that led to one question that led to a mission: I noticed that as each player ran off the field, he would hand the substitute his sweaty helmet to wear. This repeated several times. I asked a player on the sideline if his teammates had forgotten their helmets. He said no—they didn’t have enough for everyone because they were expensive. My mind flashed to the new helmets we received every year for our club team and piles of perfectly good “last year’s” helmets collecting dust in garages all over Long Island. The next year, I returned with a dozen donated helmets and was met with deep appreciation. In subsequent summers, I would bring as much donated equipment as I could. Word spread through the small international lacrosse community about the American kid helping in Croatia, and other developing programs reached out. My response was to found All Latitudes Lacrosse (ALL), a nonprofit dedicated to growing the sport globally.”

His love for the game and for the people ran deep, so he knew he needed to make a difference. Once he made the initial jump to donating supplies he was able to connect with more and more people and organizations to help him further his project. 

“I have created All Latitudes Lacrosse, to connect donated lacrosse equipment from my community on Long Island with developing programs around the world. Here in the United States, most equipment gets discarded after the purchaser no longer needs it. Thus, the solution to inaccessibility to equipment around the world was connecting the equipment that is outgrown or no longer used here, with where it is needed. However, doing so was difficult, as simply shipping the equipment is expensive. The biggest challenge was finding low-cost or even free ways to get 2 teams’ worth of gear to each of the programs that I helped. Therefore, I had to “get creative.” In one case, I partnered with a safari company headquartered in New York City to get the equipment to Nairobi.”

On top of donating equipment and supplies to these communities across the globe, Jack has also been able to create connections with the players and get to know them even better. He told us about his experience, 

“The project was effective in its ability to reach such a wide variety of programs around the world. For example, at the 2018 World Lacrosse Championship in Netanya, Israel, I connected donated lacrosse equipment from my community with a local youth program. While there, I ran a clinic, in which I taught the local children how to play lacrosse. Despite a language barrier, I experienced a deep connection with these children through the sport. In 2022, I connected donated equipment with a youth program in Ghana. During the Wildfire Lacrosse Festival (a celebration of the inauguration of this lacrosse program), I spoke with the children via video call. I spoke about my experiences, balancing school with sports, and how sports can make you a better student. Again, I was able to see firsthand the power of sports in bringing people together and building relationships.”

As for the grant money, Jack has big dreams as well. He was chatting with a friend about the challenges that come with playing lacrosse and it gave him a great idea on how he can expand to help even more students to play. He writes, 

“We spoke about our individual experiences in the international lacrosse community, and what the biggest challenges are for the growth of the sport. He told me about one of the biggest struggles that his community faces. Throughout the course of any given month, girls are unable to attend school or participate in sports for about a week due to their menstrual cycle. This means that for 25% of the time, girls have to stay home. As a result, it is difficult to increase participation for girls in sports – especially a sport like lacrosse which already faces its own challenges.”

“Therefore, I would like to use the grant to purchase and send period underwear. I would like to approach the company Thinx and work out an agreement. For example, I would ask them if it would be possible that for every one item that I purchase, they would be willing to donate one or two. I have done something similar for the boy’s lacrosse program. I started a “Cups for Kenya” equipment drive. I reached out to Shock Doctor and asked them for a donation. I purchased 50 protective cups and they donated another 100 cups. It is an overlooked but critical piece of equipment for players. Access to this product for women in communities like Reagan’s would drastically improve the quality of life for these girls by allowing them to receive a more complete education, as well as participate in sports.”

We are so excited to see where All Latitutes Lacrosse goes in the future and we are so proud to have Jack as our 2024 top scholarship recipient! 

Announcing the 2024 Build a Better Future Scholarship Winners

I don’t think a single year goes by where I don’t comment on how hard choosing scholarship winners is. Spending time reading through each application and hearing about how each of these kids is making a difference in their communities is so encouraging. I want to at the very least give each of them a big hug and tell them they are making the world a better place!

We are so grateful for each applicant we received this year and inspired by the work they are doing. Five top projects stood out to us in the end and here they are…

Jack Voelker: All Latitudes Lacrosse

Jack noticed lacrosse players from opposing teams sharing equipment because they did not have enough gear to go around for everyone. Instead of keeping this as a simple observation, he did something about it, because he felt the players deserved more. He gathered gently used equipment to donate to teams in need around his community, and eventually grew and grew his project internationally.

Jack is our top winner and recipient of the $5,000 grant towards furthering his project, which he plans to put towards reusable period products for girls who are unable to play lacrosse during the week they are menstruating because of the lack of period products available to them.

You can see more of his work on his Instagram account:


Thrisha Kalpatthi: Pittsburgh Metro Math

Thrisha has a love for participating in math competitions in her community but felt discouraged by the lack of diversity at these math competitions. She decided if there was anyone that would do anything about it, it was her! She brainstormed what barriers were keeping everyone from being involved and set to work to create math competitions that break these barriers and include everyone.

On top of creating an inclusive environment, she also worked hard to generate donations for The Brashear Association, a local non-profit that works towards community resources.

Elia Woods: The Recycling Project

Elia is an Arizona teen who found an impactful way to make a difference in her community. Water is one of the most basic human needs, so she took something some people have an overabundance of (reusable water bottles) and found a way to distribute them to community members who needed better water access. Not only did she do this project, but she also made sure accessible water spouts for filling the bottles were available.

You can see more at her website:


Josephine Gardiner: Pool Panthers

Josie Gardiner is an avid swimmer who realizes the privilege and lack of representation of the sport. Water safety is also a big priority for her, so she set out to find a way to help more kids become water-safe and give them proper swimming gear. By providing free swimming lessons in low-income housing neighborhoods, she was able to reach her goal and provide lessons to the children who needed it most.

Sahana Gupta: Hani’s Heros

Sahana saw the positive impact the foster care system was making for children by providing them with their needs, but she felt like she could do more by helping provide for their wants as well, as those often are overlooked. She worked with her local foster care center to make free, extravagant birthday cakes for as many children as possible, even connecting with local bakeries to widen her ability to reach more children.

Are You a Clean Desk Club Classroom?

I’m a proud member of the clean desk club! I was throughout school and still (somewhat) continue to be. 

As an elementary school student, I felt so much pride as a member of the clean desk club, as I’m sure many do! But what about those students that aren’t part of it? 

Becoming a mom and spending time teaching has widened my view of the clean desk club. I have one child who will clean and organize all day every day if I let her, and while I haven’t seen her desk at school, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was part of the clean desk club at any given moment, too. 

On the other hand, I have a child whose brain just does not work in a way where things around him are organized or clean. The more chaotic his surroundings, the better he does in general. 

What I’ve learned is that some people just genuinely don’t want or need their workspace to be clean. 

So why is the clean desk club a thing? Or desk cleaning days? Or teachers micromanaging the state of their student’s desks?

My first thought is that the teachers doing this know they are more productive when they are organized and tidy, so they feel like their students will be the same. However, we have to also consider the teacher’s needs as well as the students, maybe it’s taking time out of their day to constantly have to wait on students who are searching a messy desk for a paper or book. 

How can we as teachers find the balance between a well-run classroom, while also giving our students space to be themselves and feel comfortable in the classroom? 

Allot the time to your students who need it to find items in their desks. Give them an early heads-up to start their search while you finish up other miscellaneous tasks. 

Minimize the space your students have to keep tidy to cut down on clutter. A teacher I know got rid of desks in her classroom and switched her students to tables. They have their pencil boxes, a shelf in the classroom with book boxes for their books, and a spot in their coat cubby for papers. Everything has a place and it’s easy to eliminate clutter when there’s no space for it. 

Stop praising the clean desks. This automatically places shame and guilt on those with messy desks, which is not helpful for those students. 

Have real conversations with your students, ask them what their needs are. Do they like clean desks? Do they work better with messy desks? How can you work together as a classroom so that everyone wins? 

What is your stance on the clean desk club? 

Scholarship Optional Strategy Plan Due Date Reminder

Due date reminder!

Our optional Strategy Plan is a Google Form that gives you a very small glimpse of our final scholarship submission. It’s a few questions that generate critical thinking about the project you’re working on and planning to submit for the final application. It gives your project organization and meaning.

On top of all of this, it’s an opportunity for feedback from our scholarship team. Each strategy plan submission is read and then responded to with specific feedback as well as all questions submitted are answered.

This part of the scholarship process is not required but can be extremely helpful and can give scholarship applicants a big advantage.

The strategy plan for 2024 is due on March 1, so the deadline is quickly approaching. If you know anyone planning on submitting a scholarship application this year, send this their way!

Even if you miss the strategy plan deadline, you are still qualified to submit a final scholarship application by April 8, 2024.

To see more about our scholarship program, head here.

Valentine’s Day Picture Books

There is nothing I love more than an excuse for a good picture book! Picture books, despite popular belief, are for all ages. I think more middle school and high school teachers should incorporate more picture books into their curriculum, but that’s another conversation for another day. 

Here are the three Valentine’s Day books that we’re reading on repeat this year! 

The Love Letter by Anika Aldamuy Denise

A cute book that teaches us the impact we can have on one another in our small acts of kindness.

The Day It Rained Hearts by Felicia Bond

I love the illustrations in this book! So simple but so beautiful. And a fun, cute Valentine’s Day book, too.

This Is Not a Valentine by Carter Higgins

I love that this book shows that Valentine’s Day is so much more than sending cards to one another.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-woman-tutoring-kids-with-text-books-8922396/

St. Patrick’s Day Word Search- Free Printable

Okay, I know Valentine’s Day hasn’t even happened yet. But I also know that teacher planning doesn’t happen in a day, and most teachers are looking forward at least a month in advance, if not longer!

So to all those teachers out there who are already thinking ahead to St. Patrick’s Day even though Valentine’s Day is still our main focus, here is a free printable resource for you! A fun, St. Patrick’s Day themed word search, with an answer key.

This word search is geared a little more towards 3rd grade and up, but younger grades can still be successful with help.

If you download it and use it in your classroom, let us know how it goes! And Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

And if you’re still looking for a Valentine’s Day resource, check out our FREE word search printable.

Photo by RDNE Stock project: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-woman-in-green-long-sleeves-teaching-kids-in-school-8363163/

Graphic Novels: Is It Really Reading?

The other day I spent some time in Barnes & Noble just browsing, picking up books, and flipping through pages aimlessly. It was so nice! 

One section caught me a little off guard in the children’s section, a whole wall of graphic novels! My first thought was that to my knowledge, there weren’t really enough graphic novels out there for a whole wall of these books, so I explored more. There were the classics, Dog Man, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Captain Underpants. And then there were more. 

The Secret Garden as a graphic novel. The Babysitter’s Club. A modern telling of Little Women as a graphic novel. 

There may be some out there who have a “bah humbug” attitude about graphic novels in the hands of children, “It’s just all pictures! It’s not real reading!” they claim. But flipping through the books on the shelf, I was so excited about this new phenomenon! 

First, it’s showing the world that graphic novels aren’t just for boys. When I was growing up, only boys read comic books/ graphic novels. It was such a boy thing. But now the options of books for both boys and girls are endless! Books are gender-neutral by default, but with the vast options available now, there’s certainly a book for everyone to connect with. 

Graphic novels are an incredible resource for reluctant readers. The pictures do a great job of helping tell the story, leaving fewer words on the page. For struggling readers or readers with anxiety, fewer words on the page is extremely helpful. They are also smaller, bite-sized wording on a page instead of paragraph after paragraph like a chapter book. It’s so much less overwhelming and feels doable to read one speech bubble and move on to the next. 

from The Tryout by Christina Soontornvat

Are graphic novels still reading though? 

Oh, absolutely! Reading is reading, my friends! There are words on the page that brains are working hard to piece together and figure out. Their brains are working hard to take in the input of information between the pictures and the words on the page and create a story in their minds. It is absolutely reading! 

Is there an age limit for reading graphic novels? No. Absolutely not. Reading is reading!! So if you see a high school-aged kid reading a graphic novel, celebrate the reading happening!

Graphic novels are a great resource in the reading world and I am so excited that they are gaining more and more traction as time goes on. Yay for graphic novels! 

Be honest, what are your thoughts on graphic novels?