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Teenager Tireless in Lax Quest

By Sam Wigness, SportsEngine, 03/27/17, 3:15PM CDT

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NewJersey native Will Dadouris works to find and ship used lacrosse gear to those in need

Wielding hand-me-down pads and a used stick, Will Dadouris began his lacrosse career as a fourth grader in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and instantly fell in love the sport.

Now, as a high school senior, the 17-year-old is an NCAA Division III recruit for Moravian College and the founder of ReLax Collections, a non-profit organization that collects and redistributes used lacrosse equipment.

Dadouris has been playing lacrosse year-round since 2011. After two years of junior varsity at Gill St. Bernard’s School in Gladstone, New Jersey, he captained the program’s inaugural varsity season in 2016. With Dadouris as goalie, the Knights went 11-5 in their first season, shattering expectations for the new program.


Will Dadouris, left, and Kaitlyn Sleyster find and donate used lacrosse gear as part of their work for ReLax Collections, a non-profit organization founded by Dadouris.

“No one thought we would actually win a single game, and to come out well above five hundred was incredible,” the Brine All-American said. “This year we are going to play some tougher teams so our goal is to hang in with them and even beat a few of them.”

During the last four years, Dadouris has divided his energy between building the Gill St. Bernard’s lacrosse program and developing ReLax Collections. In the summer before his freshman year of high school, Dadouris took a two week trip to Jamaica with athletic volunteer corps Fields of Growth International. With one backpack of clothes and two duffel bags of lacrosse gear, Dadouris introduced young athletes to lacrosse and suited them in hand-me-downs.

“It was pretty much the same as how I got started with lacrosse,” Dadouris said. “Just the looks on the kids’ faces when they got their stuff – I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Fields of Growth founder Kevin Dougan, 38, said he’s had several “Will Dadouris’s” that have continued charitable work through the Peace Corps, church fellowships and college programs, but the real Will Dadouris is a special case.

“Will’s work is unique because there are lots of stories about college kids going international, but Will was one of the youngest volunteers we ever had, and the experience was able to impact him at a younger age,” Dougan said. “Now, he’s got his own non-profit before he has even graduated high school, and he’s shown a passion to be a social entrepreneur.”


FACTS

Name: John William Dadouris (Will)

Age: 17

Resides in: Clinton, New Jersey

Family: Parents, James and Lisa; brother, Jamie (27); sister, Alli (25)

School: Student at Gill St. Bernard’s High School

Job: Founder of ReLax Collections and future summer intern for Fields of Growth International in Jamaica

Interests: All things lacrosse: coaching middle school players, working on ReLax Collections and playing. Also, indoor track, lifting weights and several other high school extracurriculars.

 

QUICKIE BIO

Dadouris became interested in lacrosse in elementary school and played his first few season wearing hand-me-down pads in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Soon, he was playing lacrosse year-round and in the summer before his freshman year of high school went to Jamaica to coach lacrosse and donate equipment with Fields of Growth International. Upon his return, Dadouris founded ReLax Collections, a non-profit organization that finds and donates used lacrosse gear. In 2015 Dadouris was awarded the Congressional Award Gold Medal, the highest honor for youth service, for his efforts establish ReLax Collections. He captained Gill St. Bernard’s High School varsity lacrosse team in its inaugural season and was named a Brine All-America. Following his senior year, Dadouris will play lacrosse for Moravian College in Bethlehem.



Dadouris' ReLax Collections website


When Dadouris returned home from Jamaica he contacted coaches and players he knew and asked for lacrosse old equipment. Soon, he had a driveway full of re-usable gear and the beginnings of ReLax Collections. After acquiring an assortment of helmets, pads and sticks, Dadouris searched for a place to donate the equipment and began an ongoing pursuit of suppliers and recipients.

After months of paperwork ReLax Collections became an official non-profit organization on Jan. 1, 2015. Dadouris recruited the help of a few friends, including schoolmate Kaitlyn Sleyster, to help grow his brand through social media outreach and a new website. On weekends and evenings – and sometimes during class, Sleyster admitted –  the five person team reaches out to other lacrosse organizations to find used equipment and a new home for it.

“We do a lot of cold calling and, honestly, we get told ‘no’ a lot,” Sleyster said. “It can be tough, but it’s so exciting when someone finally says yes. It becomes a rush to go pick up the equipment.”

As of March, ReLax Collections had received more than 25,000 pieces of equipment from a variety of suppliers. One of the largest was from Longstreth Sporting Goods, which donated $20,000 worth of stick shafts, goggles, women’s gloves, butt-ends and sticks. Dadouris said as soon as he received the product he shipped 30 shafts to Jamaica for Dougan and Fields of Growth to distribute.

“It’s a nice, harmonious relationship, and he makes my job much easier,” Dougan said regarding Dadouris and the relationship between their organizations. “As he becomes more experienced I’m trying to outsource more toward him and his assistants.”


As the frequency and size of ReLax’s donations grew so did the cost to ship them, causing financial issues for Dadouris and his non-profit organization. ReLax has sent donations to Jamaica, Uganda, Costa Rica, Malaysia and Kenya and paid for all of the shipping.

“We had a shipment to Florida cost more than two hundred dollars – and that’s IN the United States,” Dadouris said.

To offset the shipping expenses, Sleyster designed a ReLax Collections logo, put it on t-shirts and athletic shorts and began selling them. When possible, Dadouris and Sleyster drop off the donations in person and witness the joy their effort brings to young athletes. Although they don’t take a home paychecks, the gratitude expressed by their clients keeps the ReLax Collections team going.

“I’m happy to say I take zero profit from this, none of us do, because then more goes back into the kids,” Dadouris said. “The feeling of doing this and the experience with the people we help makes it worth it.”

Dadouris hopes ReLax someday will be the go-to destination for lacrosse brands Brine and STX to send their defective products. Next year, Sleyster and Dadouris will be challenged with balancing ReLax Collection duties with their first taste of college life. Sleyster said ReLax is striving to become more of a recycling program, where the suppliers can ship their product directly to people that need it.

“For me, I love the sport of lacrosse, but more importantly it’s just about helping other people, especially kids,” Sleyster said. “(Will) really started this all by himself and made it grow. I’m here to help it grow as much as I can, but he is the heart of this and he works very, very hard to help other people.”

Dougan said watching Dadouris follow his passion is the most rewarding part of his work and the reason he founded Fields of Growth.

“I’ve been very fortunate to impact Will in a small way and now he’s impacting other people,” Dougan said. “It’s fulfilling to watch Will catch some inspiration and know that he could impact so many people through the course of his life. It becomes impossible to calculate the net value of it all.”