For DeSales High School junior lacrosse and hockey player Noah Swenson, a humanitarian trip he took in 2017 helped strengthen his view on the power of giving.
As a member of Resolute Lacrosse in Columbus, Swenson joined a contingent that traveled to Nicaragua with Lacrosse the Nations, a nonprofit organization founded in 2009.
Lacrosse the Nations offers a Youth Ambassadors Program for high school students looking to get involved in a service effort. Swenson is one of four youth ambassadors in central Ohio.
"I loved that trip (to Nicaragua)," said Swenson, who was accompanied by his mother, Kelly. "To this day, it's my favorite trip of all time. It was a lot of work and it was really hot. We did a lot more than just lacrosse. There were days in 100-degree heat (when) we were painting walls. It was hard work, but it was good. It helped them a lot and it also put a lot into perspective for me."
According to its website, Lacrosse the Nations "unifies the lacrosse community to improve education and health while creating opportunity and hope for children across the world."
It also teaches important lessons to the ambassadors themselves, who develop leadership, service and interpersonal skills.
"Kids have always been a major part of our story: kids helping kids," said Greg Bice, a longtime coach and co-founder of Resolute Lacrosse who leads the local volunteers with Molly Carlin. "The Lacrosse the Nations ambassadors program is a way for us to encourage other kids. We've seen how big of an impact the high school kids have had on our organization and trying to encourage other kids to participate."
Bice is chairman of the board for Lacrosse the Nations, while Carlin also is a board member. The local group, which Bice and Carlin are hoping to expand, plans to visit Panama in late July.
"I'm really close with coach Bice and he got me and my family interested in Lacrosse the Nations," said Swenson, who has competed for Resolute Lacrosse club teams since sixth grade and hopes to play the sport in college. "Being a part of the Youth Ambassadors Program, I really want to help because what they're doing is really good for the kids. It's a good cause."
There currently are ambassador programs based at the University of Virginia and The Pingry School in Bernards Township, New Jersey, along with the local group connected with Resolute Lacrosse.
Lacrosse the Nations made its inaugural trip to Nicaragua in 2009 to promote the sport while also assisting people there with everyday life skills.
Bice and his wife, Emily, were living in Honduras at the time and made the trip to Nicaragua to assist in the effort.
"We dropped off lacrosse sticks in that community," Bice said. "There's a school in that community called La Chureca. We had an awesome week of playing with kids and introducing this new sport and getting to learn more about the community and the school that was there. One thing led to another and we started a lacrosse program in this trash-dump community with the school that we partnered with.
"Since that time, everything looks a lot different than when we started. The trash dump is now a recycling center. They moved the community out, so now we're outside of that community with an after-school program with a community center."
In another example of the group's work, Bice said a nutritional program has been developed for youngsters in Nicaragua and Panama, along with a scholarship program for coaches and athletes.
"We pay for a number of kids to go to school because there is a cost associated with attending schools as far as uniforms, books and supplies," Bice said.
Javier Silva, executive director of Lacrosse the Nations, said the Washington, D.C.-based, organization is excited about the Resolute Lacrosse visit to Panama this summer.
"Our service trips are the ultimate embodiment of our mission," Silva said. "We get to motivate our young lacrosse players and coaches abroad by connecting them with U.S. lacrosse players and coaches and showing them all the wonderful things playing this sport can provide.
"We also get to use the sport we love to teach young U.S. lacrosse players about the world of philanthropy and how sports can be used to create meaningful change in the lives of others and expose them to a world outside of what they are used to."
Jack Carlin, a freshman lacrosse and hockey player at Columbus Academy, also is part of the ambassadors program and made the trip to Nicaragua in 2017 with his mother, Molly. They plan on making the Panama trip.
"It was pretty fun interacting with the kids there," he said. "They really have a great passion for the sport. There was some work, but most of the time we played lacrosse with the kids. It really didn't seem that much like work."
Two other Academy students, junior Abby Yakam and freshman Kyle Carlin, also are youth ambassadors.
To help fund the trips, local lacrosse clinics are offered to help teach the basics of the game to young athletes. Players from Resolute Lacrosse helped run a clinic in January, with money raised going to assist in the humanitarian trips.
"The goal has always been to use lacrosse as a platform to teach kids life skills and to help some kids who are in some tough situations," Bice said. "Our goal has always been to help children."