2021 Welcome to America Soccer Festival

Connor leading coaches through the youth clinic drills and exercise

My name is Connor Desai and I am the Refugee Youth Sports Program intern for L.A.C.E.S.’s fall 2021 program. So far, I’ve assisted with donation giveaways, virtual clinics, and all of the background setup to provide great programming for L.A.C.E.S. refugee youth!

Last Saturday, October 30th, I traveled with L.A.C.E.S. refugee youth over to the Washington International School (WIS) for the Welcome to America Soccer Festival. All of the kids sprinted over when I arrived at the bus meeting area, ecstatic and frantic about getting on the bus as soon as possible to go to the event. When the bus arrived, it took approximately 90 seconds for everyone to grab their gear, say goodbye to their parents, and hit the road . With the help of L.A.C.E.S. amazing coaches Yassir, Issa, and Najib,  in no time all of the youth were participating in scrimmages, passing games, and shooting drills. During a period of time where they have limited access to organized soccer events, it was clear that the One Journey Festival was a breath of fresh air. Even when it was snack time, kids were still pestering volunteers to play with them or were shooting at the big soccer net. Trying hard to keep a smile from his face, Coach Najib had to corral his brother, Hamed, and his friends towards the snack area because they wouldn’t stop their juggling competition. 

Youth on the pitch at the Welcome to America Soccer Festival

As the event wound down, we revealed the big surprise to the kids: during the festival, volunteers brought out and organized donated Halloween costumes so that they all could participate in Halloween. I’ve worked with kids before, but I have never heard so much yelling, laughter, and pure noise that erupted when we told them the good news. With the help of some amazing student volunteers, we were finally able to organize the kiddie chaos that had formed. The amount of costumes available overwhelmed both the youth and I. With princess and skeleton being the most popular costumes, my personal favorite has to be the ninja costume Fared picked out. He promptly began jumping everywhere “like a ninja.” On the bus, they told me that this festival was the best event ever and begged me to register them when the next one came around.

Refugee youth organizing soccer balls at the Welcome to American Soccer Festival

On the Thursday before the festival, I traveled to the refugee community to register kids. When I asked them what they planned to do for Halloween, most said a variation of nothing or watching TV. On the bus back, with their Halloween candy in one hand and a bag of candy in the other, almost everyone excitedly announced they were going to trick-or-treat with each other. Not only did they have a great time at the festival, but it also brought them closer together. I am so happy that L.A.C.E.S. could work with WIS and One Journey to provide refugee youth with an incredible festival celebrating not only our refugee neighbors, but teamwork, community, exercise, and fun. Thank you once again to everyone who helped provide these great kids with a Saturday they won’t forget.

 

Coach Holly at the Annual Salute to Women in Sports

Source: Women’s Sports Foundation

Each year, Billie Jean King and the Women’s Sports Foundation host its Annual Salute to Women in Sports, a special event that brings girls, athletes, coaches, and sports influencers together to celebrate the power of sport. This year, L.A.C.E.S. Ambassador Holly Wilson was invited to volunteer and attend the Annual Salute, after recently accepting the Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award (see blog post here). The event took place at the New York Historical Society in New York City and honored a lengthy roster of influential women in sports.

At the event, Coach Holly had the opportunity to spend quality time with numerous women Olympians and Paralympians, who graciously shared their life stories and experiences with her. “Each one of them was extremely inspiring and personable,” she shared. “They genuinely love what they do while wanting to empower young girls and all athletes to achieve their goals.”

Coach Holly at the Annual Salute to Women in Sports.

During the event, several of the athletes that Holly was volunteering with were asked to gather on the stage for an interview panel. When asked what advice they would give to young girls on their journey in sports, USA Women’s Softball player, Rachel Garcia replied, “I would say to enjoy it because it might not be the easiest journey, but it will be the best moments of your life.” This response struck a chord in Holly, who says she feels similarly about her own journey in sports. Holly also had the honor of listening to Billie Jean King speak at the event and said, “her speech and presence moved the whole room.”

We are incredibly proud of Coach Holly and the tremendous strides she is making for women in sports.

Holly Wilson and the Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award

Coach Holly at the 2021 Sports Humanitarian Awards

This past summer, our coach Holly Wilson was awarded the Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award at ESPN’s seventh annual Sports Humanitarian Awards. The Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award celebrates and honors youth who are using the power of sport as a catalyst for change and making a positive impact on society. In July, both Holly and our L.A.C.E.S. founder and executive director, Seren Fryatt, traveled to New York City to attend ESPN’s award ceremony. Today, we would like to honor Holly for all the hard work and dedication she has shown L.A.C.E.S. throughout the years, and give her the opportunity to reflect on her experience of attending the award ceremony. 

Coach Holly’s Contributions to L.A.C.E.S.

Coach Holly’s Summer 2019 Soccer Team

Coach Holly began volunteering with L.A.C.E.S. while attending the University of Maryland (UMD) in the Spring of 2019 in Washington D.C., she began coaching and mentoring a group of twelve refugee youth, bringing young people from Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Rwanda, and Congo together as a team. Throughout her time at UMD, Holly served our L.A.C.E.S. community over her summer breaks, weekends, and vacations, and began engaging her peers to learn about the refugee crisis, local refugee community and both L.A.C.E.S. local and international work. 

When COVID-19 stay-at-home orders came at the beginning of 2020, Coach Holly became instrumental to the development of L.A.C.E.S. virtual programs. When the ‘Let’s Keep Moving campaign was established, she leaned into her strengths and took charge of planning and filming herself demonstrating exercises for a 4-week-long workout circuit program. When we began planning for our virtual soccer clinics, Holly was among the first to volunteer to help run them. Holly’s eagerness to test virtual soccer programs and her persistence in seeking opportunities to stay connected with our youth allowed for the success of our virtual programs. 

Coach Holly at L.A.C.E.S. 2021 Refugee Youth Soccer Camp

Coach Holly has become an integral part of L.A.C.E.S. team. In the last two years, she has grown tremendously as a mentor and coach and has eagerly taken on her role as a L.A.C.E.S. Ambassador. Despite language barriers and cultural differences, she continues to use the power of sport to build relationships with our youth and their families to ensure they feel supported and welcomed within their communities. 

Her commitment to the youth we serve led us to nominate Holly for the Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award because we believe there is no one more deserving of the award than Holly. 

Holly’s Award Show Experience

Coach Holly and L.A.C.E.S. founder and executive director, Seren Fryatt, meeting the sports legend, Billie Jean King

In addition to receiving recognition at the award show, Holly had the privilege to attend a luncheon where she met Billie Jean King. Holly explains, “I was grateful to have the opportunity to sit directly next to her. The lunch was filled with insightful conversations as we discussed the future of sports, and the barriers we leaders need to understand and overcome. I looked around at all the dedicated and influential people in sports and felt a wave of contentment as I knew that my impact and leadership were making a difference just as much as the people surrounding me,” explains Holly.  

Congratulations, Coach Holly! You are an inspiration to us all and we are thrilled to celebrate this tremendous honor with you.

We would also like to take a moment and add to the list of Holly’s contributions to L.A.C.E.S. With this award from Billie Jean King came a $10,000 grant which she generously chose to give to L.A.C.E.S. That donation was used to support our refugee soccer camp this past summer which Holly volunteered at. 

Coach Holly in New York for the ESPN 7th annual Sports Humanitarian Awards

Thank You, Coach Holly!

For all your dedication and hard work in service to the youth within our communities.

 

Meet Megan

 

This photo was taken on a trip to the Grand Canyon in 2019.

Hello everyone! My name is Megan Harnaga and I am thrilled to be joining L.A.C.E.S. as the fall Communications Intern

A bit about me

I am a senior at DePaul University where I study public relations and advertising. I grew up on the East Coast, (about an hour north of NYC) but I am currently living in Chicago where I attend school. On campus, I am a proud member of Zeta Phi Eta, a professional fraternity centered around Communication and the Arts, and I work part-time in my university’s admissions office. In my spare time, I enjoy writing, baking, hiking and taking yoga classes at my school’s recreation center. I am honored to be assisting L.A.C.E.S. with their social media and communications and I cannot wait to share everything we’ll be working on in the upcoming months! 

The start to my L.A.C.E.S. journey

My sister and I on her high school graduation day.

My L.A.C.E.S. journey began a couple of months ago when I was scrolling through various job boards in search of a Fall internship. I knew I wanted to join an organization that held values that aligned with my own, and would help me grow as a student and as an emerging communications professional. I stumbled across L.A.C.E.S. job posting and immediately knew that this was the position I was searching for. I was inspired by L.A.C.E.S. mission and admired the approach that the organization takes of integrating local leaders into all aspects of the program. I now have one full week under my belt and cannot wait to continue growing with L.A.C.E.S. throughout the course of my internship. I am so grateful to be working with an  organization that is making such positive transformations in people’s lives, and I look forward to the continued sense of fulfillment I feel at the end of each work day.

Meet Connor

Me with my two dogs Coco and Cleo.

Hello L.A.C.E.S. community! My name is Connor Desai and I am the new Refugee Youth Sports Program intern. 

A bit about me

I am a Junior at Georgetown College studying Government and Economics. I’m interested in joining the Peace Corps after I graduate and going to law school. I’m from Buffalo, New York (Go Bills!) and come from a family of six. I have 3 sisters, one of whom is my twin, and my earliest memories of them are playing soccer together at our local park. I’ve played soccer since I was 7, and when I first stepped onto the pitch I fell in love with the sport. My favorite soccer team is Manchester United, and you can find me on any given weekend watching the Premier League with my friends! In my free time, I love volunteering, hiking, reading, and playing video games (FIFA mostly). 

What drew me to L.A.C.E.S.

What initially drew me to L.A.C.E.S. was its connection to past volunteering experiences I’ve had. Alongside some of my teammates from high school, I spent time with the International Institute of Buffalo and Westminster Economic Development Initiative (WEDI) in tutoring refugees and immigrants. My time in both programs is especially meaningful to me, as I was able to see the immediate impact I had on my community and relished the connections made with the people I was partnered with. I stumbled across L.A.C.E.S. when looking for internships, and immediately knew it was the right fit for me. L.A.C.E.S.’ vision of service and community building in D.C. meant that I am able to positively and quickly affect the refugee community just like in Buffalo.

What I’m looking forward to 

Refugee Youth Soccer Program

What most excited me about L.A.C.E.S. is the opportunity that I have to create and run programs. I like to think of myself as a self-starter, and I hope that the projects I start within L.A.C.E.S. and it’s community can promote its core values of empowerment, quality, and mentorship. Not only do I want to contribute to a hard-working and determined attitude to L.A.C.E.S.’ already impressive team, but through that work I aspire to elevate the service that this organization provides to all of you and the youth L.A.C.E.S. serves. 

Helping Afghan Allies

Summer 2021 Journey Reflection

My name is Ryleigh Cornelius and this is a reflection on my experience serving as the Refugee Youth Sports Camp Intern this summer.

The Start of my L.A.C.E.S. Experience

My L.A.C.E.S. experience started in March when I interviewed for the Communications Internship. While I was not necessarily passionate about the role I was applying for I was extremely passionate about the cause and what L.A.C.E.S. stood for. Which was perfect because I was rejected for that role which led me to the Refugee Youth Sports Camp intern position. I was filled with joy when I got the news and my initial excitement carried on throughout the duration of my internship. It took me a while to get into the swing of things though once I navigated the online professional setting and developed relationships with my coworkers it became a very fun working environment.

Preparing for the Camp and Returning to America

Once I travelled back to the states from the UK things in my internship became easier due to the fact I was on the same time zone as everyone else. Since I was back I was able to start making calls and inquire about booking venues for our activities and request in-kind donations. Some of the work was long, though what else can you expect when you are trying to set up a summer camp for 50 kids. After all the forms and safety waivers had been filled out it was almost time for camp to start.

My Week at L.A.C.E.S. 2021 Refugee Youth Summer Camp!

I travelled down to DC the day before camp started. When we finally met the kids I could tell they were packed with energy and throughout the week-long camp that energy stayed consistent.

My favorite day of camp was the day that we took the kids rock climbing. Surprisingly, this was probably the day that I thought I would have liked the least. Though seeing the kids conquer these massive walls and the massive smiles they had on their faces really made my day. They would ask for their photos to be taken and for videos of them and you could see how proud they were of their accomplishments. After this, we took the kids to a park, gave them lunch and played a game of soccer with them, in which at some points I was severely outplayed. 

When the last day of camp came around I was honestly quite sad. I had developed real relationships with the kids I was working with, especially the older boys. We had inside jokes and secret handshakes that were so intricate I struggled to keep up at points. It was clear that the kids had quite an amazing time at camp as they were so thankful at the end and were running around asking for everyone to sign the soccer balls we had distributed to them. Once the bus left for the last time I reminisced on the work that we had completed and was extremely proud of how the camp went.

Post-Camp Blues and What is next for me

Going back to laptop work after the camp was difficult due to the amazing time that we had had the week before. This internship was a unique opportunity I stumbled upon while scrolling through Indeed. Though I could have never known the adventure it was going to take me on and how much I would learn and how many great experiences I would have. Once I have completed my internship and my summer comes to a close I will be going back to Elon University to complete my final year of education before going off into the real world. This internship has taught me valuable life lessons that I will continue to use once I have graduated. The largest takeaway for me has been: I will always make time to help others regardless of what field I work in. Doing the necessary behind the scenes work to have the result of seeing so many kids smiling faces was worth it a million times over and to receive that reward as the fruits of my labor will fulfill me more then my job salary ever will.

 

A Summer with L.A.C.E.S.

Hello everyone! My name is Teresa Buzzoni! It is my great pleasure to reflect on my time serving as the Communications Intern this summer. 

My L.A.C.E.S. beginning

When I joined L.A.C.E.S., I had just finished my sophomore year at Syracuse University. Filled with bright ideas and opportunities to grow the social media and communications, I came to Seren and Leah with a mind full of ideas to try. My wonderful bosses were gracious and welcomed my ideas with open minds. This opportunity to learn by doing allowed me to put my education to work to help the brand grow. This summer, I worked virtually as a result of Covid-19, but I was always searching for opportunities to join my coworkers in Washington D.C. 

My L.A.C.E.S. journey

L.A.C.E.S. gave me the opportunity to set my creativity to work. I was challenged with the opportunity of creating a social media calendar that organized content across four platforms. While the task appeared daunting at first, I was able to learn quickly. I created hundreds of graphics, began implementing analytics behind strategy and proposed outlets to cover current events and pitch larger brands.

A few of my favorite moments with L.A.C.E.S.

Perhaps one of my favorite moments with L.A.C.E.S. came from the out of the box ideas that I proposed to Leah and Seren. When we entered our team meetings, we would brainstorm ideas. Whenever I proposed a new idea to the group, Leah and Seren would always welcome it. 

In the photo above, several of the L.A.C.E.S. youth asked if they could feel how soft my hair was. This moment was extremely touching to me, because they were so excited to relate to me, just by my different hair type.

A few weeks ago, the Olympics were beginning to be publicized. It was announced that there was going to be a Refugee Olympic team. When hearing about it, I pitched several athletes to be featured on our Instagram. Reading more news, I came across a brand called Telfar, which was a Liberian-American brand who were designing the uniforms for the Liberian Olympic team. In a meeting with Seren, she suggested we pitch to the brand. The Telfar account, with 919,000 followers, seemed like a giant compared to the accounts that I had worked with before. However, Seren encouraged me to create pitch materials. The experience allowed me to see the impact of my writing and gain confidence interacting with brands that I had grown up seeing in magazines and on the news. 

Leah and Seren welcomed me to Washington D.C. for two weeks to help them with their summer camp. From the first day of my arrival, I was entrusted with the responsibility of transporting supplies, helping organize coaches and gathering content for the social media platforms. While there, I was able to interview several youth about their experiences coming to America. Their recounts of experiences and the moments that they shared with me changed my thoughts and my heart. I am so grateful for them entrusting me with their stories and to L.A.C.E.S. for giving me the opportunity to learn from them. I can’t wait to see them shared with you.

What this experience meant to me 

Here is a photo of my lovely boss, Leah, and me at camp! I had the fantastic opportunity to spend two weeks in Washington D.C. to help run the summer camp!

This internship has made all of the difference in my professional career and the way that I view my education. I gained confidence, and watched my design abilities grow. Working closely with Leah, I was able to observe her design experience improve my drafts and proposals. Over the few months that I spent working with her, I grew into a talented designer who was able to adapt to different platforms and content needs. The confidence that I gained during my time with L.A.C.E.S. has become invaluable. I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be independent, and to learn by doing. Leah and Seren have both taught me so much during this summer. I cannot thank them enough for taking the time to teach me and let me spread my wings. 

 

Reflections on the OneJourney Youth Soccer Festival

A few weeks ago, L.A.C.E.S. partnered with District Sports and OneJourney to host a community wide Soccer Festival in Washington D.C. for 24 L.A.C.E.S. youth, coaches, volunteers, and members of our partner organizations. This collaboration re-emphasizes L.A.C.E.S. commitment to promoting inclusivity and community. It was the first in-person event since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Those in attendance were buzzing with excitement, eager to have the opportunity to safely meet their friends and play a soccer match together again. To share with you the atmosphere of that day, we asked coaches and volunteers to share their experiences with you, to give you a feel of what it means to be a volunteer with L.A.C.E.S. 

How have you seen events such as this soccer festival develop relationships between people of different backgrounds in the community? 

Coaches and volunteers alike recognize the incredible bond that sport has between children and members of the community. Coach Issa, a volunteer with the L.A.C.E.S. program thinks that  Sports can be a tremendous bridge for people. Through this event, I’ve seen individuals from many different backgrounds, and speaking different languages, play with each other, and enjoy activities as a community. Similarly, I’ve also seen kids from various backgrounds interact and play together as members of one community, and it is fantastic, and fun, to witness.” Watching children come together to achieve common goals helps transcend the difference between origin and situation.

L.A.C.E.S. is grateful to partner with other community organizations because it allows the youth in our program to interact with other children who have had different experiences. The growth of common ground and shared experience are “an opportunity to build friendships between players and relationships between foundations. Everyone who steps onto the soccer field comes from a unique background and holds a purpose, helping spread awareness about diversity, L.A.C.E.S.’s mission, and the impact of soccer,” said Coach Holly, another volunteer coach who has worked with L.A.C.E.S. youth for over two years.

What is your favorite part of your involvement with events such as these?

When asked to comment on some of their personal experiences, each had numerous personal moments that were extremely touching. For some, the shared involvement builds family. Coach Humza and his brother Bilal have been working as coaches with L.A.C.E.S. for multiple years now. “Coaching with my brother Bilal was a lot of fun. He has been coaching with L.A.C.E.S. for a while, so he knew some of the kids already, and seeing them after a couple of years, he was amazed about some of the kids’ progression in soccer skills,” said Coach Humza. 

Other volunteers love interacting with the children, because of their incredible spirit and attitudes. One volunteer, Justin, said that his “whole experience often turns out to be a favorite afternoon, and not limited to any one part. Watching the kids learn, interact, and play with each other is out of this world.” He enjoys interacting with the children because of their incredible passion for soccer and the fun that they have learning and playing with one another. 

Each of the L.A.C.E.S. coaches volunteer with the L.A.C.E.S. program to share their love of soccer with the refugee youth at camps and events. Coach Holly says that her “favorite part of involvement with these events is feeling the positive energy released from these kids when they play. Once they kick or pass the soccer ball, their whole attitude transitions to excitement and friendly competitiveness. To notice each one of their confidence developed throughout the event displays the importance of these events.” She has seen many of the L.A.C.E.S. youth grow from the program, and looks forward to many more opportunities to become involved.

Could you recall a memorable moment that you would like to share regarding events like this?

Coach Holly felt grateful to return from the Covid-19 quarantine to see her returning players

“Since I have been unable to see many of the players since the beginning of quarantine, it was special when a handful of the returning players recognized me. When I heard, “Hi Coach Holly”, I felt nostalgic and fulfilled to be a part of L.A.C.E.S.” (Holly)

Coach Humza loved fighting for goals with his team even when winning looked bleak.

“A personal moment that was most memorable to me was when I was actually scrimmaging with the kids, and my team was down 3-2 with about 30 seconds left, and we scored a beautiful goal to tie it. Then, we went to penalty kicks and everybody including me was missing them, but we scored on a clutch penalty kick and won. (Humza)

Justin was in awe of the energy and spirit of the youth that he was helping. 

“A little girl about seven or eight years old came up to the L.A.C.E.S. table while I was sitting there and just stood a few feet out, quiet. I wasn’t sure if she was one of the youth in L.A.C.E.S. program, but I didn’t recognize her. For a few seconds she just stared at me without saying anything until I asked her if she needed water because it was hot out. She said no, but just kept standing there looking at me. I broadened my question: “is there anything I can get for you?” thinking she might want a granola bar or some other snack, and she said yes, but then remained impassive.  Finally, when I asked “what can I get for you?” she lit up and asked if she could have a L.A.C.E.S. T-shirt. I gave her the smallest shirt size we had and she quickly put it on but it still went past her knees. Since the kids were all playing soccer, I had to knot it at the hip so she didn’t trip over it while she was playing for the rest of the day.” (Justin)

 

Having fun and connecting with other members of the community allows the L.A.C.E.S. program to continue growing and changing. The youth and friendships fostered among children of different events and their coaches is incredibly unique and special. We look forward to more events like this throughout the summer and are grateful to have such phenomenal staff and volunteers to help develop quality learning opportunities for the youth. 

 

To get involved, please explore our website and follow our social media @lacesport to find ways to make a difference in the lives of the L.A.C.E.S. youth. 

 

Meet Teresa

Teresa

Welcome:

Hello! My name is Teresa Buzzoni. I am so pleased to be joining the team as the L.A.C.E.S. Summer Communications intern. I am a rising junior at Syracuse University studying international relations and public relations. With my two areas of interest being communications and the world, I am looking forward to working internationally to develop paths for the creation of change in a constantly changing and diversifying world. I started work as a remote intern in June and am looking forward to sharing the rest of my journey with L.A.C.E.S. this summer.

A few things that excite me about L.A.C.E.S.

Some of the incredible opportunities that led me to L.A.C.E.S. were the ability to work as an interface between L.A.C.E.S. and the different worlds that the nonprofit serves. I have been fortunate to work with multiple social media programs, but the learning opportunities that L.A.C.E.S. offers have pushed me to grow as an intern and look for new ideas. 

I am looking forward to crafting a semester-long project to showcase my talents and challenge myself during the course of this internship. L.A.C.E.S. has granted me to explore the realm of work that they do, and take an idea further, to learn the ins and outs of their international programs and the change that the organization is spearheading. 

What I am perhaps most excited for is the opportunity to work with an incredibly diverse and strong staff among three countries, working together to incite change among the youth who are our future. 

Some things to look out for:

I am excited to be taking a deep dive into the social media behind the programs that L.A.C.E.S. runs. I hope to better understand how all strategies are planned and researched to maximize their effectiveness. I am excited to be working on several projects including social media, web page development and brainstorming new ideas to grow our social media platforms! I am so grateful for the opportunity that L.A.C.E.S. has given me to be creative and pitch new ideas to such a fantastic team.