Former Willamette U soccer star's new goal is improving futures - KPTV - FOX 12

Red Sweater Project

Former Willamette U soccer star's new goal is improving futures in Africa

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Ashley Holmer and her twin sister Haley grew up in Detroit, Michigan before moving to Lake Oswego when they were 11.

After their all-state soccer careers with the Lakers, Holmer went on to Willamette University where she was a Hall of Famer after making the Division III Final Four twice as a Bearcat.

After college, the sisters were determined to work together.

"We were looking through different volunteer opportunities that would accept two female teachers who would also allow us to coach soccer,” Holmer explained. “They weren’t necessarily looking for soccer coaches, that wasn’t part of the posting, but we said that is what we wanted to come and do."

So the twins started working to make the world a better place, starting in Tanzania, where Holmer founded the Red Sweater Project.

Established in 2008, Red Sweater Project is now adding classrooms to its second school in Africa. It is the providing many families their first chance for a generation to have higher learning and dream of something more beyond the family’s trade.

“Statistics and studies show that putting girls through secondary school, having girls finish high school, has the most impact on alleviating global poverty,” she said. “It became pretty easy to realize that the project has become putting as many kids in red sweaters as we can."

Speaking fluent Swahili, Holmer comes to agreements with local governments for undeveloped land, which she uses to then develop the youth in those small villages.

Holmer actually lives in the areas for nearly nine months of the year, helping provide educations that cost around $500 dollars to families who on average only earn $2 per day.

When she's home, Holmer loves her Portland Timbers, and in turn the team loves her passion.

Owner Merritt Paulson and Coach Caleb Porter have worn bracelets benefiting and raising awareness of the Red Sweater Project’s endeavors through PTFC, and the team has donated special bladder-less soccer balls and game-used kits to help spread the love of the game to the kids in Tanzania.

Holmer will also soon have quite the character alongside her in Tanzania with a shovel in the ground.

Timber Jim Serrill, the Timbers' original mascot, is better known these days as “Gardening Jim,” tending to a community plot at Tualatin United Methodist Church where he grew and delivered 3,400 pounds of goods to the food pantry.

Saying he feels more “compelled” than “wanting” to go, Timber Jim is ready for the challenge of teaching sustainable farming on another continent.

"Their soil is depleted, so I want to teach them how to rebuild their soil,” he said. “We are talking about a very select few of children that have this opportunity over the entire continent of Africa. You know, there is a lot of suffering so I can help."

Holmer flew back to Tanzania Monday, and Timber Jim will be there sometime in the spring, after the Timbers drop the MLS Cup championship banner at Providence Park on March 6.

To learn more, including how you can help the red sweater project, go to

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