This Spring, our Community Empowerment and Leadership Club hosted an event in collaboration with the Cape Cod WE CAN ( Women’s Empowerment Through Cape Area Networking) organization. The focus was to open up multigenerational discussions about what it means to be an empowered woman and girl within our communities and within society as a whole. The world we live in today is complicated, to say the least. It is our wish to help young women come to know the power of their voice and to instill in them the belief that they are capable of enacting great change. This event was a stepping stone to the greater work which is ahead.
After meeting with Tracy, a central asset at the Cape Cod WE CAN organization, it became immediately clear that our club and her organization had similar goals. Although on a more adult level, their group also works to empower women and girls. They provide mentorship and guidance to women who may be struggling with finances, facing marital issues, dealing with substance abuse, making big life choices, or who could simply just benefit from having someone to talk to. They have come to know the power which comes from women taking care of and looking out for one another. With so many educated and experienced people within our own communities, it’s a no brainer to use one another as resources and confidants.
Tracy and I discussed how we could take this similar idea and apply it to a younger audience. In a natural and truly organic way, the conversation evolved into the foundation for this event. However, it was not entirely up to us. The youth members of the Community Empowerment and Leadership Club needed to have the ultimate say. Their eagerness was apparent from the start. They jumped all over the idea and began to craft a solid plan for what the night would entail. The event would be held in our newly renovated high school library which allowed for an open and fluid concept. There would be ice breaker activities, followed by deep, small group discussions between groups of 3-4 of the club members and 1-2 of the WE CAN adult volunteers. The conversations would be open but would be tailored around a few central questions: What does it mean to be empowered? How do you feel empowered within your community? What services or programs does WE CAN already offer? What services or program do young females on the Cape feel they could benefit from? And, finally, how can we go about making this change happen?
Although we had all hoped for the event to go well, no one could have predicted just how incredible it was. Right off the bat, there was a positive energy vibrating within the room. There was this unanimous recognition that we were all therewith the same goals in mind. There was the utmost respect, true active listening, and a desire to learn from one another. While walking around and facilitating group rotation and flow, the sense of 'sisterhood' was overwhelming.
The conversations being had were raw and needed- on both sides of the discussion. The reciprocation of insight between the kids and adults was profound. As we do with many of our events, we concluded with a take away portion. Each person had to explain what it was that they took away from the event. Even though each response was unique, there was an undercurrent of similarity. Individuals, both youth and adult, felt a sense of hope, a direction to move forward, and a feeling of honor and respect of one another.
And so, we are left with the question- what do we do now? We are going to continue to work with the WE CAN organization to hopefully begin new events and opportunities for young women on Cape Cod. The girls had so many wonderful ideas ranging from offering college and career guidance and mentorship to teens, providing adult support for young girls and teens who do not have a female role model at home, and to offering apprenticeship roles within particular fields and crafts. The ideas were countless, and we will continue to explore and develop them.
The time is now to help our girls find their voices and show them how to use them. It is also the time to connect generations and share our knowledge with one another. And, most importantly, it is time to listen to what our girls and young women need and to help them in any way WE CAN.
Hello! Our names are Alexis and Phoebe Papavasiliou, and we are here to share our experience with UKSD! We started UKSD when we were 5 and 7 years old in a run down gym in Osterville, Massachusetts. There were about 4 other kids in the class, who are now very close friends. He introduced himself to us as “Doc”, and that is still what we call him to this day. We have not stopped participating in his clinics and community service projects since. Through this program, we have made many friends and valuable memories. We also met many young women, that we admire and look up to, including Megan Fligg and Maddie Brennan. They would run clinics, and we would hear about their inspiring trips to Dominica, Ohio, Jordan, Kibera, and Florida, hoping one day we too could be apart of such a journey. Now we are happy to say we have come full circle, and we are going on the next trip to Dominica in April.
When we got older, UKSD came up with the “Academy”. This was more like a soccer team, rather than pick up games and clinics. In the Academy we focused on helping our community, building character, and improving our soccer skills. We would have two hour sessions, the first hour we would discuss certain inequalities in the society, and the second hour we would play soccer. As a team we would also participate in community service throughout Barnstable: we helped at a homeless breakfast; we raised money via soccer-thons; and collected canned goods through food drive tournaments. We were also given the opportunity to execute some of our own community service ideas. After hearing about the young women Doc was working with in Kibera, we wanted to connect with them more. With the help of Doc and Flig we were able to make this idea into a reality.
After spending many years participating in the UKSD Academy, we learned the value of community service. At the end of last year we had a meeting about how we would like to continue with UKSD, although we all enjoyed being apart of the Academy, it was difficult to fit into our schedules. As a result the idea of having an after school club came about. When Doc and Fligg asked us to be the President and Vice president of this club we were so excited. Over the summer with Doc and Fligg, we contributed and helped develop the Community Empowerment and Leadership Club. We are now a Junior and Freshman in high school, and a dynamic sister duo. We wanted to create a club where the members can identify issues or inequalities in their community and work together to create an event that will raise awareness about the issue chosen. Members of our club don’t only benefit from the community service hours, they gain valuable experiences and leadership skills. We think that participating in and supporting the community is important, and this club is a great way to show the next generation how fulfilling these experiences can be.
Love is a very complex emotion. According to science, love can be explained through the release of neurotransmitters in the body called dopamine and endorphins that emulate a “feel-good” response towards someone or something. However, love is much more complicated than that. It can be applied to a plethora of different things. Someone can love another person, an object, an idea, or any other arbitrary thing. In my opinion, love is the most powerful emotion, which means it can also do the most damage. For example, I loved soccer more than anything in the entire world.
My whole life revolved around the sport, and it was not only a game I played, but also something I obsessed over. Ever since a young age, I was a better player than the kids in my age group. Often times I would find myself sneaking into my older brother’s games and playing against kids two or three years my senior. I was naive to believe that this feeling of euphoria would last forever; that my love for the game of soccer would be insatiable no matter how much I played. However, as I mentioned before, love can do just as much harm as good. I never would have imagined that at the young age of 15 I was told by numerous doctors that I couldn’t play competitive soccer again in my life. After suffering a crippling brain injury, I was completely cut off from the one thing I loved the most at such a young age.
I didn’t know how to handle such a loss, so for the next year, I slowly began to isolate myself more and more. My daily routine consisted of rehabilitating from my head injury and sitting alone in a dark room. The void I felt in my heart felt unconquerable. I felt like I had no motivation to do anything or try anything new. All that changed one day when my dad came back from his weekly business trip to Cape Cod. He told me about this organization based out of Hyannis, Cape Cod and how it was the perfect fit for me. United Kidz Soccer Development, or UKSD for short, was an organization/charity based on making the world a better place through soccer. After doing some background research on the charity, I knew it was the right thing for me to do. I had to get involved in any way I could.
After reading about the initiative that Doc and Fligg have taken to changing the world around them, I felt an old spark ignite a flame inside of me. That burning love for soccer was back, and UKSD was the tinder. I immediately reached out to Doc, inquiring about anyway I could help support such a noble cause. After speaking with him and Fligg, I decided to host my own fundraiser to raise money and support the charity. I set up a pay-to-play soccer tournament that summer, and it was a huge success. After such overwhelming support from the fundraiser, Doc offered me a spot on UKSD’s annual mission trip to Dominica. I was thrilled and immediately accepted the offer. I didn’t know what to expect from the trip, but I was relieved when I discovered that I would be traveling with other high-schoolers who had been to the island before. When we first landed on the tiny island of Dominica, I was instantly taken aback by the breathtaking sights. It was the first time I had ever been exposed to such a lush, green environment.
Color exploded around every corner and bend in the road. The mountainous terrain unraveled before me as far as the eye could see. What was even more amazing than the scenery were the people on the island. I have never in my life experienced such genuine happiness from some of the simplest things. We brought loads of used soccer gear such as cleats and balls and shin guards, and when we handed them out to the local kids, it was like watching a reflection of myself on Christmas morning. Their eyes lit up when they received what in my eyes was a simple gift. A sense of guilt washed over me and for the first time in my life,I felt spoiled. Amongst my friends at home, I never had the coolest and latest toys or clothes.
In Dominica however, it felt like a privilege just to own a new pair of sneakers. The most spectacular thing about this though, was that it made me realize that you don’t need the hottest trends to be happy. A quick glance around at all the kids made me appreciate every simple thing I had back home. The overall experience on the island made me realize that the most rewarding feeling is helping those around you. It’s not an easy fix by any stretch of the imagination, but with continuous effort and support, we can make the world a happier and better place. I carried the experiences and friendships I gained from the trip to Dominica with me as I embarked on the biggest journey of my life: college.
I am currently attending school at the University of New Hampshire with an undergraduate in Biochemistry. I want to pursue a career in orthopedic surgery. A big part of my decision to tackle such an arduous career path such as medicine was after I saw so many unsupported people in Dominica. Around every corner, you saw someone hobbling around on crutches or bedridden due to illness. After witnessing this, I made it one of my biggest goals and motivators to help people who can’t afford to help themselves.
Overall, the trip to Dominica and my experiences with UKSD as a whole was nothing short of amazing. It helped me heal and expand my love for soccer. It taught me how to empathize with others and learn to see things from a different perspective. I will forever be grateful towards Doc, Fligg, and the rest of the team at UKSD.
Something we have learned through our journey here at UKSD is the importance of making partnerships. For the past few weeks, we have partnered with South Shore Select and Coaches Across Continents in order to enhance all of our abilities to reach kids through the game of soccer. South Shore Select is an all girls soccer club located in Hingham, MA. Although they focus much of their work on building talented young athletes who are both technically and tactically educated, they are very much aware of the importance of helping their players also build their sense of character, commitment, leadership potential, and global awareness. It is because of this that Select welcomed, with open arms, Coaches Across Continents hands- on-training.
Over the course of two weeks, Select Coaches, along with our very own UKSD coaches, actively participated in CAC educational sessions. However, don’t let the word education make you think of classrooms and books. The CAC staff had us moving, playing, thinking on our toes, and having deep and meaningful discussions. Their mission is to use sport as a means of community growth and awareness. They knew that with a pitch full of coaches and even some players that the best way to do this was through the game itself. Because CAC tailors their curriculums to the communities they are serving, they asked Select and ourselves what topics we wanted to focus on in our sessions . They wanted to know what we felt we needed in order to strengthen the kids we work with.
We each came to the decision that some of the main focuses would be women’s empowerment, gender equity, leadership, healthy competition, and the definition of success. Throughout the training, these topics evolved in the most thoughtful and organic ways. Each coach was able to add their insight, experience, and how they could and would implement the lessons we were learning into our sessions with our kids. The beauty of our discussions was that there was really no wrong answer. Each coach was encouraged to take what they could from the different activities and games and find ways to adapt them depending on the age, diversity, needs, etc. of the particular group we would be working with. Every one of us walked away, day after day, with valuable skills and lessons we could implement immediately.
It was in discussion after the trainings that we collectively recognized something; this type of player education could, quite possibly, be the most valuable toolset we could ever give the kids we work with. Although some will go on to play at the collegiate level or pursue careers having something to do with soccer or sport, many will pursue other endeavors. We need to give skills which can transfer from their training on the field to whatever it is that they choose to do off of it. We’re so excited for this partnership we’ve built with South Shore Select and Coaches Across Continents. It’s not everyday that an established soccer club will make time for this type of work. Even though winning may be important, they recognize that building youth with exceptional character is far more important. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for each of these organizations and our connections with them.
The UKSD Blog