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.