PHOTOS BY Hillary Ehlen and submitted by Mark & Julie Cook
Five years ago, Julie Cook owned a yoga studio in Minneapolis. One of her clients wanted her to take a trip to Honduras to teach yoga, so she took a teaching assignment in Roatan and fell in love. “It’s a beautiful place with really neat people,” she said. “When I came back, I said to Mark, ‘the only reason I came back was because of you.’ I immensely enjoyed the experience and could have easily stayed.”
Julie left Honduras, keeping Roatan in her heart. She knew that someday she’d love to go back and bring her husband with her. Who knew it would be so soon? Mark and Julie Cook both have impacting roles within the Fargo-Moorhead community. For the last six years, Mark has been the head coach for the North Dakota State University’s women’s soccer team. Julie’s role is with the YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties as the vice president of member and program services.
Mark had heard Julie talking about Roatan for five years, knowing he was the reason she came back to the U.S. “We obviously travel a lot and we’ve looked at other places to move,” Mark said. “We knew someday we’d want to live abroad and when we were down in Roatan in November, I fell in love with it like she did. We both realized this place feels like home and the time is now.”
Both Mark and Julie recently turned in their resignations, sold almost everything they own and with five bags of luggage each and a dog, they will be taking the journey to Roatan in mid-January, creating a new life and a new home.
The SOL Foundation
Along with enjoying the outdoors and things they love to do, like yoga and kiteboarding, Mark and Julie will spend their time working with the SOL Foundation.
“The SOL Foundation works on the island of Roatan with the children, so we were referred by someone we met on the island to go visit them,” Julie said. “We went and spent time with them at their facility. We had been talking to locals as well about the need for a soccer program and, of course, with Mark being who he is, it was a perfect fit.”
“The people there are really friendly,” Mark said. “We met so many people and everyone had a story to tell, stories that tug at our heartstrings. After spending the day with them, we knew we wanted to get involved.”
Within the SOL Foundation, they both have specific goals they are reaching toward.
“They don’t have female soccer,” Mark said. “I would like to start something for girls’ soccer and then help them obtain whatever else they could use. They don’t have as many resources as we do here. They need equipment and I’d like to use my connections in the states to get them what they need, like soccer balls or cleats.”
Julie will be focusing on the fundraising side of the foundation. “Right now, there are two people who run the SOL Foundation, and they’re very day-to-day operations,” Julie said. “They currently have a budget of $100,000, which does go pretty far in Honduras, but there are a ton of opportunities for fundraising that they don’t do.”
One event the foundation already does is having scuba diving companies compete against each other and raise funds for the foundation. “It’s a really cool event, and I’ll be involved with pursuing more events like that,” she said.
Even though they are excited about the move, it’s always difficult leaving things and people behind.
“Fargo is a great community, and my experience at NDSU has been tremendous,” Mark said. “It’s really hard to leave behind the players that I’ve grown to love and the people I work with every day. My time at NDSU has been very rewarding and fulfilling. I know what’s down the road will be equally as rewarding, but it’ll be different and I think that’s going to be the hard part.”
Mark has coached for 22 years, so leaving that behind will be a change, but he said he’s looking forward to 83 degrees, sun every day and being on the water. “We’re water people,” he said. “We like to scuba dive and kiteboard. All the things I love to do that I can’t do in Fargo, I’ll be able to do that right outside my door now.”
Before working at the YMCA, Julie came from the for-profit world. “I really think working at the YMCA was part of my journey,” she said. “I greatly appreciate what I’ve learned about the not-for-profit world, and I’m thankful for all of the people who taught me about this sector. They are all really great people in it for the right reasons and contribute in a big way to this community and they have good hearts and a very good experience for me to work with those kinds of people. It wasn’t about climbing the ladder, it wasn’t about the money, it was about improving the community. I’ll miss their intentions.”
“We’re committed to 10 years there,” Julie said. “We’ll be living on a beach, we don’t need to go anywhere else. We won’t own any property in the United States, we’ll be visitors when we’re back to the U.S. We’ve purchased a home, Roatan is now home for us.”
“I always say, ‘go out and see the world,'” Mark said. “That’s what got us to want to do something like this. There’s a lot out there and the sad thing is people tend not to go very far. This is an adventure. We plan to see some incredible things together.”
SOL (School of Life) International Foundation is working to initiate and support community-based programs designed to promote education and increase the quality of life in developing areas.
Through the support of grants and initiatives, we are committed to enhancing the standards of education, arts and athletics in lesser developed areas.
We believe that by encouraging initiatives in collaboration among the nonprofit, government and business sectors, we can help to build healthy communities and enable people to improve their lives.
We Accomplish Our Mission By:
- Establishing community centers that offer extracurricular activities that would be otherwise inaccessible.
- Supporting existing foundations with similar goals.
- Offering programs that support public educational systems.
- Supporting and establishing sports programs.
- Providing academic scholarships.
Julie: “The SOL Foundation is in the Sandy Bay neighborhood, which is where we’ll be living. They’re serving children and giving them food, clothing and shoes, as well as education and sports. In Honduras, not every child goes to school and if they do, it may only be for half of the day or less, depending on the demand.”
Mark: “It’s kind of like an after-school program, but it’s all during the day because schooling can’t be offered for every child. They have volunteers that teach and help with math, reading and other subjects. Children are getting meals, getting educated and can play sports. It’s a very all-inclusive type of program. These kids are coming from a lot of poverty and this is one thing they have to look forward to every day, knowing they can get a good meal and have a place to just be.”