We can all agree that 2020 has been an interesting year to say the least. In February, we were all going about our daily business as usual. UKSD KidzPlay4Free Futsal programming had just finished, we had recently implemented our new Girls4Girls and MEN-torship programming into local schools to help develop peer to peer mentoring opportunities, and we had been creating new ways for high school aged youth leaders assist their younger peers. We had even just hosted a group of teens from Moldova to help educate our community about different cultures, among many other UKSD community service initiatives and projects to better the world. Our sights were set on preparing for the spring and kicking off our street soccer KP4FP (our favorite program of the year), organizing our annual food donation tournament, and getting ready to take 13 youth leaders from the BHS girl’s soccer team for another epic adventure to our favorite little Caribbean island, Dominica.
Then…March hit us like a ton of bricks. The words “cancelled” and “postponed” had become words that we found ourselves having to declare over and over. Realities which we were not happy about, but we knew were in the best interest of the UKSD family. Everything was pretty surreal until a meeting we had with kids and parents of the crew who were supposed to be traveling with us to Dominica. After the meeting, we were left devastated. We discussed at length and weighed our options, and the group decided that we would need to postpone the April 2020 trip for fear of the unknown.
This decision did not come easy. The girls were so excited about this adventure. For some of them, it was going to be a completely new experience. For others, they would be returning- returning to what has become our second home in the West Indies. To take that away from such a remarkable group was the hardest thing we have ever had to do in a decade of UKSD decision making. Yet, we knew it was what needed to be done.
After that meeting, we saw this unfortunate trend continue. Our upcoming trips to the Middle East, Uzbekistan and the U.K., Summer KP4FP beach soccer leagues and clinics, along with so many more projects that we had been lining up to help bring education and leadership opportunities to thousands of young people across the globe also needed to be postponed. We quickly learned, as did the rest of the world, the importance of limiting travel, adhering to social distancing, and putting the safety of our families and loved ones first.
As we found ourselves in the midst of a pandemic and school closures became more rapid by the day, our first reaction was, “how can we make sure the kids will be ok?”. We knew that having normal life halted in such an immediate fashion would, at some point, start to affect their mental health. As with anything new, there is always the honeymoon period. Kids having some time off from school was a novelty at first. However, as time went on, we witnessed, first hand, how the lack of social interaction and structure was becoming a major concern not only within our own UKSD community but many others. One of the most difficult aspects of all of this was that none of us had any answers. All we could do was try to be there, as best we could, for our amazing community.
Similar to many other organizations, we immediately kick started regular zoom meetings to maintain our connections. Each week, we hosted 2 leadership meetings to continue to discuss social issues and create community service initiatives through our project based learning model. We also held 3 online workouts to help keep everyone active. In addition, we conducted regular individual meetings with anyone who just needed to talk. Our main focus was to try and help everyone maintain their general mental health and to initiate projects that would serve those most in need.
Through these endeavors, we created and implemented several community service projects. Projects ranged from weekly food drives and drop offs, collecting diapers for families in need, online child care initiatives to help working parents, a kick it forward campaign that encouraged teens to perform a positive acts to others each day, social distance drop in projects so kids were able to see their peers in person, i-pad collection drives so senior citizens could stay in touch with their families during quarantine, supply donation for those suffering from homelessness, and many others. As time went on and the summer approached and restrictions eased, we could tell that the interest in zoom meetings had started to wear off. It was then that we decided to give everyone a little space and focused on inperson, 1on1 drop ins, with our youth leaders. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was the best that we could do; we were beyond proud of all of the kids and teens we worked with and their ability to deal with the adversity that had been thrown their way.
It was then that we had the opportunity to reflect on our ourselves as individuals and as an organization. For the past 10 years, we have had the pleasure of working with some amazing young people, both locally and worldwide, and it is no doubt that they have done more for us as individuals than we have ever done for them.
We started off in 2010 with a question. How can we use the game of soccer to better the lives of others?
After several months of planning, in 2011, we officially kicked off our first United Kidz Soccer program in a windy, freezing cold parking lot, with 9 kids, sweaters for goal post, and an old, raggedy soccer ball. Fast forward to 2020, and we serve approximately 500 young people locally and approximately impact another 1000 globally. We have traveled all over the world to some of the most poverty stricken areas on the planet and have always been met with a smile. We have developed strong relationships with like minded groups throughout the U.S. and throughout the world, all on a shoestring budget and as a fully voluntary organization. Every penny that is donated to UKSD goes directly back to the young people and communities we work in. We constantly have to pinch ourselves to believe that what we do is even real. We are beyond lucky.
Having time to reflect was the one positive thing that this entire messy Covid life of ours has given to us. From our own life experiences, we know that with every adverse situation there will always be a positive you can take away. In the past decade, we have never had an opportunity to really assess the work we do and the actual impact we have made. Unlike many other soccer or youth sports organizations, we are not trying to sell the latest training tool or offer the ‘best coaching’ or most ‘elite league’. We don’t do what we do to make a living.
We do what we do because we love working with young people. The UKSD coaching team can all say that sports have helped us navigate so many aspects of our lives. We know that sports are a great way to learn both life and social skills. We know sports are something that should be afforded to every young person who wishes to participate, regardless of socio-economic status, race, gender, or beliefs. We know that having the opportunity to play, learn and love the game, is not a reality for so many because of the youth sports system we live in. We know that we will always try to provide opportunities to combat this. We know that will always give a platform for others to have a safe place to come and be themselves. We know that we will continue our work for the next decade and will continue to build strong young leaders who will dedicate their efforts to help others. We know that we will continue to use a soccer ball to bring communities together.
Taking the time to reflect on where we have come from and reaffirm our beliefs will allow us to continue our work moving into the next 10 years. Although things might not look like they always did in the past, it is our life’s goal to continue our work. We are excited for what the future holds…
The UKSD Blog