By ANTHONY LIFRIERI
Smithtown native and lacrosse star Rob Pannell is heading to Uganda to help build a kindergarden classroom and teach lacrosse, beginning on Saturday, December 1. Pannell, 22, a 2007 Smithtown West graduate who attends Cornell University, is not attending classes due to redshirt status from an injury last season, allowing him to make the trip with Fields of Growth, an organization that seeks to build the game of lacrosse and make a positive impact in developing countries.
To make the trip Pannell will take a 21 hour flight with two stopovers in Paris and Kenya before reaching Uganda. There, he will help build a kindergarden classroom out of what was once a chicken coup for Ugandan youths.
“I gave private lessons to the senior boys in Manhasset and through them I met Kevin Dugan,” Pannell said. “Kevin Dugan runs the Fields of Growth Initiative, which is involved in the Federation of International Lacrosse. I was approached to go because I had the semester off, and they wanted to see if I was interested in going there and doing some community service work. I jumped at the opportunity because community service is a large part of what we do at Cornell. It’s a way for me to give back while I’m at home.”
Before he leaves for Uganda, Pannell is intent on fundraising. “My main focus is to raise money to build a classroom for a kindergarden class. It’s currently a chicken coup,” Pannell said. “I’m still raising money and haven’t reached my goal. I spent a large part of the week sending out emails. The money is not for my trip but for building the classrooms.”
Currently, Pannell has raised $1,900 of his $10,000 goal, but he is actively contacting teams and individuals in the Smithtown area for donations. He also urges individuals to make donations on his website throughout his seven day trip and beyond.
Once in Uganda, the Smithtown lacrosse star’s schedule will be heavily booked. “When I’m there, I’m going to start building the classroom,” Pannell said. “I’ll also be working with the Uganda National Lacrosse team, which will be participating in the 2014 World Games. I’ll be working, training, coaching and instructing them. I’ll also visit some schools and do some lacrosse demonstrations.”
Pannell said he will be staying in a guest house that will have amenities such as internet and showers. He is also considering blogging while there and participating with video and photography crews to help document Fields of Growth’s impact on the area. However, Pannell will likely wait until he returns to Smithtown before writing about his experiences.
For the trip, Pannell is keeping an open mind about a new country, culture, continent and hemisphere. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what it’s all about,” Pannell said. “I know some of the people who have been there before and a lot of people in the lacrosse world hope I can build the game of lacrosse there. I want to put as many smiles on as many faces as I can and I want to open my eyes to a whole new world. This is a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m going to take it all in.”