Jenn Jacobs nets federal grant to create national women’s sport summit in Belize

Jenn Jacobs
Jenn Jacobs

Alternative Spring BAE 2.0 will touch down in Belize next semester with a different mission than its Engage Global debut earlier this year, thanks to a $10,000 award from the U.S. Department of State.

Jenn Jacobs, an assistant professor of Sport and Exercise Psychology in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, is the first recipient of a new Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund grant.

The federal money will help to create and finance the inaugural national women’s sports summit in Belize, a country where “girls have fewer opportunities to participate in sport, and when they can participate, they have much less support.”

Flipping that situation, Jacobs says, would help females learn “to advocate for themselves in their education and their careers.”

But it will prove quite a challenge. Gang violence is prevalent in Belize; education is not. Half of the population is younger than 24; most of the crime is perpetrated by young adults ages 18 to 24.

“Empowering girls and women through sport is a way for them find success in life and in general,” Jacobs says. “The reality is that there are almost no organized sports in Belize for girls after the age of 18, and they have to leave the country if they want to pursue sports after graduating from secondary school.”

She expects that the summit in March 2020 will start conversations to spark that change.

“As far as we’ve heard, there’s never been any sort of meeting, delegation or even informal get-together in Belize to address this,” she says.

From left: Dwight Lewellen, Ben Lee, Lauren Meyers, Jenn Jacobs, Emma Baumert and Karisa Fuerniss
Alternative Spring BAE 1.0 travelers Dwight Lewellen, Ben Lee, Lauren Meyers, Jenn Jacobs, Emma Baumert and Karisa Fuerniss.

“Our plan is to invite practitioners, directors and professionals from across to the country to take on the task of trying to solve gender equity through sports in their country, which, of course, is a huge task,” she adds.

“We’ve been working with ‘independent pioneers’ doing their own things trying to get girls into sports or meaningful coaching positions, but never before have they all been in the same room at the same time, and our intention is to make that happen.”

U.S. State Department officials received more than 70 applications from people who previously had received funding for international programs and were in search of seed money to foster ongoing partnerships, Jacobs says.

Her eligibility came from earlier work in collaboration with NIU colleague Paul Wright on unrelated projects with Belize and Sri Lanka.

One of those initiatives – the Belizean Youth Sport Coalition Project – connected Jacobs with her current collaborators: Kaya Cattouse, regional sports coordinator at the National Sports Council, and Enid Dakers Castillo, who played professional basketball for three years in Mexico City before returning home to work as a youth sports coordinator

Enid Dakers Castillo
Enid Dakers Castillo

“We got the grant, and we’re pumped about that,” Jacobs says. “The State Department is saying, ‘We believe you should keep doing this good work. You’ve got a lot of momentum.’ ”

Tentatively dubbed “She Believes in Belize,” the summit will kick off with a red-carpet event in Belize City with news media on hand to cover the festivities. “We just want to get people excited,” Jacobs says. “We want it to be very public to help Belizeans see that they have local champions trying to make waves.”

Participants can attend free of charge and, thanks to the State Department funding, will receive tablets, sporting equipment and tools for fundraising for the respective organizations.

Financial support is also coming from the College of Education, the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, the Belizean National Sports Council and the Belizean Department of Youth Services. Those Belizean partners also will pay to lodge of Jacobs and the team of NIU students.

NIU students selected for the Engage Global journey will facilitate discussions at the four-day summit, taking on different roles than the travelers on the 2019 maiden voyage who taught on topics such as coaching, sport psychology and sports medicine.

Karisa Fuerniss
Karisa Fuerniss

Graduate student Karisa Fuerniss, who participated last spring, and Jacobs will supervise the Huskies.

“Karisa and I want to gather a team of students that comes from a wide array of backgrounds in sport sciences,” Jacobs says. “We want them to be really well-versed in how to ask the right questions, how to develop action plans, how to fundraise, how to create the momentum for locals to make their own changes.”

Before then, the Engage Global students will meet weekly in the first half of the spring semester to learn more about Belizean culture.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the students grow throughout this process,” she says. “Our first group of who travelled to Belize still talk about how the trip impacted them, and we actually all still get together since the bonds they created were so strong. Earlier this fall, we went apple-picking!”

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