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The Sanneh Foundation helping Twin Cities families holistically

It’s not just a sports incentive program for “at-risk” kids. It’s a commitment to removing barriers for Twin Cities families.
Credit: The Sanneh Foundation

ST PAUL, Minn. —   

CEO and retired pro soccer player Tony Sanneh established The Sanneh Foundation in 2003 to support community-based organizations that provide positive environments. Sanneh's goal is to help urban youth become positive and productive adults.

The Sanneh Foundation (TSF), a Twin Cities-based organization, serves holistic youth development by supporting and promoting educational attainment through in-school and after-school support. Dedicated to strengthening physical health and social and emotional development, Sanneh celebrates diversity, equity, and community well-being.

Tony Sanneh was born in St. Paul and made a splash in the world of athletics, playing on the U.S. Olympic soccer team and several Major League Soccer (MLS) teams.

Instead of retiring to the tropics, Sanneh returned to his hometown to stage and host soccer camps. Eventually he wanted to support not only physical improvement, but academic excellence and social and emotional well-being.

Sanneh helps young people achieve whatever they want, no matter their circumstances. The Sanneh Foundation is more than just an after-school sports program. His foundation also has an emergency shelter and can provide overnight care if needed. During the Covid-19 pandemic food insecurity became a huge issue for many in the community, so Sanneh started giving food away.

With a growing opportunity gap in the Twin Cities, The Sanneh Foundation focuses efforts on diverse low-income urban and immigrant youth populations. The majority of youth at TSF come from communities of color and speak numerous languages, including but not limited to English, Hmong, Spanish, Somali, Arabic, Amharic, Burmese, and Oromo. TSF believes these students, regardless of background, are an asset to the community.

Sanneh’s mission is to empower youth by supporting and promoting educational attainment through in-school and after-school support, improve lives by providing programs that strengthen physical health and social and emotional development, and unite communities by advancing diversity, equity, and community well-being.

Some of Sanneh’s most successful programs include:

The Conway Community Center expands Sanneh’s reach in the Saint Paul community. Conway offers diverse and free youth programming and a safe place for local youth to spend during out of school time. Many students view Conway as their "home away from home" and the staff takes pride in knowing all youth by name. Conway is a special place, with over 18 languages spoken and activities ranging from sports to dance to girls’ and boys’ empowerment groups. Conway serves over 30,000 free and healthy meals each year. “We'll never turn away someone who needs food,” Sanneh says. Families are welcome to take home additional meals.

Sanneh created the largest dome in Minnesota where kids can play different sports. At the beginning of the pandemic, Sanneh renovated the gym into a spaced-out learning area with computers. Parents who couldn’t leave their young children at home unattended dropped them off at the dome instead, where qualified staff could help.

Dreamline is an academic intervention program serving low-income, under-performing students in public middle schools and high schools located throughout Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Cloud, and Rochester. Coaches provide services on-site to students identified as most in need of intervention, failing or near failing, or whose academic futures are in the greatest jeopardy. Dreamline partners with these students to increase academic performance, improve school connectedness, and develop leadership and relationship skills to become positive contributors to their school and community. Dreamline is a place where kids have fun in a safe environment.

Dreamline tutor-mentors in public high schools and middle schools provide intervention and support to students of color and other underserved students identified as low-performing, and most in need of enhanced academic intervention and greater culturally specific social-emotional support.

The program advances academic achievement by using culturally competent prosocial intentional relationship building. Full-day in-school academic assistance and culturally-relevant afterschool enrichment and capacity-building activities are provided.

Free Pro Camps partner with local professional sports teams, giving thousands of kids a safe, healthy, and fun camp experience every summer in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and surrounding metro areas. Camps use sports curriculum from professional teams while incorporating The Sanneh Foundation's youth development expertise. Over 8,000 kids are currently enrolled in summer sports camps.

The Haitian Initiative (HI) is a collaboration of partners working together to bring sustainable programs to Haiti, using soccer as a catalyst to combat the cycle of poverty. The program is designed to motivate kids to stay in school. Regular school attendance and passing grades are a requirement to participate in the program. Practice and games occur six days a week. After every practice, the players receive a hot vitamin-fortified meal provided by another Minnesota-based organization, Feed My Starving Children. For the vast majority of HI participants, this meal represents their only meal for the day.

Sanneh created his foundation to leverage what he saw as soccer’s global popularity to create positive social change for youth. Sanneh believes in giving all children the opportunity to learn, grow and succeed. With The Sanneh Foundation, he seeks to accomplish that goal through programs, partnerships, and events.

The word holistic shows up frequently in descriptions of the Sanneh. It is more than a sports program. It's more than remedial educational support. It is more than just helping little kids. High school kids mentoring younger students, earning paychecks, and being part of the workforce.

See here for ways to get involved. Whether it’s a corporate lunch and learn or you want to bring your family and friends to sort, package, and distribute 20,000 meals each week, there are always opportunities to help out at The Sanneh Foundation.

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