With the frigid temperatures plummeting recently and the first snow hitting the Cape last weekend, it’s hard to imagine the peril faced by those less fortunate who are without housing at this time of the year.
Some 35 area high school soccer players recent took part in the Sleepout Soccerthon during the weekend of December 10-11, held at Compass Athletics in Sandwich.
“We have kids spend the night in cardboard boxes and keep games of soccer going for 10 hours, to resemble a night on the streets,” explained Lee Docherty, head coach of girls soccer at Barnstable High School, who runs a soccer charity UK Soccer Development.
“Our kids raise money that helps us run all of our free of charge programming and equipment donations that we hand out to the communities that we work in,” he said.
The program, called “Kidz Play 4 Free,” provides free-of-charge year round soccer for kids in Barnstable, as well as others throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East.
In addition, the group makes yearly pilgrimages to impoverished countries, bringing supplies and soccer equipment, as well as introducing the game to the youth of those countries.
“We also use the program to educate participants about social issues such as homelessness, hunger and substance abuse,” Docherty continued.
As part of a community service project, members of the Barnstable girls team, as well as players from Sandwich, the Sturgis Charter Schools and Falmouth, took part in the nine-hour event.
“The kids bring their own cardboard boxes and sleep in them when they’re not playing soccer,” Docherty said. “They play for an hour straight and then have an hour or two off.”
Explaining that the goal, aside from raising money, is to make the players “tired, restless and uncomfortable,” Docherty said, “they may not realize it, but there are likely kids they go to high school with who are homeless. These kids are also tired, restless and uncomfortable. We use soccer as a vehicle to help them realize that.”
Docherty noted that the soccer activity was much more beneficial than having the athletes stand outside business concerns with donation cans.
“Homeless people aren’t allowed to stand on the streets and beg, so I didn’t want the kids to think that was the way to collect money,” he said.
The Soccerthon raised $3,000 and turned out to be a great experience for several of the players, many of whom have taken part in the charity for several years.
“It doesn’t give us the full experience of what a homeless person might feel, but we do get some insight into the little things,” said Barnstable junior Izzy Woods. “We didn’t have heat in the building so it was very cold and drafty, but we raised a lot of money to help.”
She noted the statistic that one in 30 people in Barnstable is homeless, which includes many of her fellow classmates at Barnstable High.
“I think that was the most eye-opening thing for me,” she added.
Maddie Brennan, another Barnstable junior who was a member of the soccer team, said the experience gave her a much richer appreciation of her own surroundings.
“We started out by building cardboard houses; they’re not very comfortable and barely functional, and really cramped with about 20 girls in it,” she explained. “It’s so difficult to sleep in such an uncomfortable place. We were inside (the soccer facility) and all bundled up in sweatshirts, and we were still complaining.”
The climate is quite different during April school vacation when the group heads to the tiny Caribbean island Dominica, where they spend the week assisting the impoverished community.
“It’s not exactly a vacation. There is trash around all the streets, but the people are super friendly,” said Brennan. “They’re all open to what you’re there for.”
The group brings soccer cleats, shin guards and socks, Band-Aids, diapers and outfits for young kids, as well as “a ton of flip flops,” she said.
Woods recalled when she went there in April, the island had recently been hit by a deadly hurricane.
“To go down there and see the devastation they lived through,” she said. “It makes you so grateful for what you have.”
The school was hit by the hurricane and many of those making the trip ventured into mud up to their hips to help clean things up. In addition, many of the roads and bridges had been destroyed.
“Still, everybody there was so happy to see us and get our help,” Woods said. “It was a difficult week and we weren’t able to shower or clean ourselves. Also, you can’t drink the water down there and the people are forced to live in shacks.”
Brennan explained one of the highlights of the trip for her was the visit to Benjamin Park to visit with a group called “the lost children.”
“They are the kids who don’t have homes or who are abandoned by their parents,” she said. “We bring them a meal, and also bring soccer balls, footballs, clothes and we play with them for a couple of hours.”
“For some of them, the meal we would bring them was the first they’d had all week,” she added.
Another trip will be planned this spring and both Woods and Brennan will be among the members of the Barnstable team making a return.
“One of the things I like best about Barnstable High School is that we have a diverse population and they’re all trying to make an impact globally,” said Docherty. “If these kids can pass the message along, then we’ve done our job.”
For further information or to make a tax deductible contribution to the charity you can visit USKD.org or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.