Commencement 2018: URI senior turns soccer career into philanthropy to build schools in Africa

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Taylor Ross
Taylor Ross. URI Photo by Randy Osga

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 16, 2018 – Taylor Ross started her first business as a high school junior, but she found the grind of selling athletic apparel unfulfilling. Her second effort, as a sophomore at the University of Rhode Island, combined her love of soccer with her marketing education and a desire to make a difference in the world. And it has already taken her farther than she ever imagined.

As the URI senior prepares to graduate on May 20, Ross has launched a new endeavor aimed at building schools in needy communities in Africa.

A marketing major from Burrillville, Ross said she has always loved business, so it seemed natural to her to enter the business world at an early age. “I especially love the creative side of business – growing up I was always making videos about Nike and other companies – so I always wanted to be in an advertising or marketing role,” she said.

As a sophomore at URI, Ross started a non-profit called Cleats Count to collect used soccer cleats and deliver them to underprivileged communities around the world. After collecting more than 100 pairs of cleats, she heard from a Tennessee organization, Ordinary Hero, that was building a soccer field in Ethiopia. She was invited to join them at the grand opening of the field in April 2016, where she donated the cleats to children at an orphanage.

“It was amazing,” said Ross, who earned a scholarship to play soccer at URI and was the team’s leading scorer in her senior year. “We visited a community that basically lived on a trash dump, which was eye-opening and very sad. But everywhere we went we saw people playing soccer, and none of the people playing soccer were sad.”

The next year, she and her brother Jordan launched a line of Cleats Count apparel to raise money to buy new cleats to donate. This time she went to Kenya with the International Sports Federation, where she spent two weeks at an orphanage and school compound called Tumaini.

“During the day we taught English, music, art and recreation, and at night we had soccer games,” Ross said. “On the last day we set up a huge soccer tournament with seven other schools, and then we gave out the cleats as a reward for hard work.”

Half way through the trip to Kenya, Ross learned that the school at Tumaini was going to be shut down by the Kenyan government if the facilities weren’t upgraded. The circumstances motivated her to find a way to help rebuild the school.

“So Jordan and I started rebuilding our organization to be based around the idea of building schools, which is something we had already talked about,” Ross explained. “We needed to bring in more revenue because schools aren’t cheap, so instead of selling apparel, we decided to start selling soccer goals.”

After rebranding Cleats Counts into Crossbar, she is finalizing her product line and partnering with a manufacturer. Soon she will begin reaching out to soccer stadiums, training facilities and high schools to sell goalposts and other equipment.

“And 100 percent of our profits will go toward building schools in the communities we visit,” she said.

Ross is already in the middle of raising money to rebuild the school at Tumaini. The blueprints are completed, the fundraising is underway, and at a cost of about $80,000, the school will be more advanced than most in the region.

“We want to break ground at Tumaini in about six months,” she said. “And long-term, we want to enter the sporting equipment market and show people that we can combine business and a good cause and have a positive impact in ways that people haven’t seen before.”

Ross has already landed a job after graduation in the URI athletic department, where she will provide photography, videography and other creative content to promote the teams. And she will continue her new business venture at the same time.

“It doesn’t seem like work to me because it combines all of my passions,” Ross said. “Watching it grow from nothing and getting people involved has been more fun than anything I’ve done. It can be a lot to take on at times, and I’ve had my share of all-nighters and crazy days, but I can’t remember one time when I wasn’t happy doing it.”