L.A.C.E.S. Annual Refugee Youth Soccer Camp
Every summer, we at L.A.C.E.S. have the privilege and opportunity to host our Refugee Youth Soccer Camp for boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 15 years old in the greater MD/VA area. This camp has proven to be a time for refugee children from all over the world to come together, practice new soccer skills, learn valuable life lessons, and enjoy playing with their peers. It’s a major highlight for our organization’s Refugee Program and last month’s was one of our most successful camps yet!
At L.A.C.E.S., we refuse to settle into allowing our one-day events, sports camps, soccer leagues, and other initiatives to be just “a fun time.” We believe on a fundamental level that every interaction we have with the children in our programs has the potential for us to instill important values and change in them. We take this belief seriously and work hard to ensure that all of our volunteers, coaches, and staff take it seriously as well.
It’s More than Fun and Games
This year’s Refugee Youth Soccer Camp started early in the morning on June 24th. A swarm of kids from varying countries eagerly waited outside of their apartment buildings in anticipation for the week ahead. Leah, our Operations Coordinator, had worked tirelessly for weeks to ensure that the children were properly registered, their families were informed, and that everyone coming to camp was accounted for.
After the first morning roll call, the large school bus responsible for transporting the camp’s participants arrived at the first pick-up location and the excitement felt by the children was contagious. “You know when I drive these kids around, I don’t just see it as a job. There is precious cargo on this school bus!” said Miss Evelyn, our bus driver for the week. Miss Evelyn cares deeply about the children she works with. Her diligence throughout the week to stop at each of the apartment complexes our children live in and bring them safely to camp at the Total Soccer Arena in Maryland was a beautiful act of service.
We Love Our Volunteers!
Every day of camp started off with breakfast and a brief time for the children to mingle as L.A.C.E.S. staff and volunteers set up goals and cones in preparation for the activities to come. It takes a lot of committed volunteers to make our camp a success and this year’s was no different. Apart from the 50+ children who attended the event, there were also more than 20 volunteers who gave of their time, effort, and resources to help make the experience valuable for all of the children participating.
“Welcome, everyone!” Seren Fryatt, executive director of L.A.C.E.S. enthusiastically yelled as the children gathered around the indoor facility for the first day of camp. “We have a lot to look forward to this week!” The kids cheered back to her as they were more than ready to begin. For many of the children within our program, the apartment complexes they call Home don’t allow much room for them to play outside. This makes summer vacation especially challenging for them and their families so the opportunity to attend a soccer camp is significant.
Everything Done with Intention and Purpose
After breakfast and morning announcements, the children were quickly broken up into different teams based on their age and size. It was in these teams that they would take part in soccer drills, team scrimmages, mentorship sessions, and coaching from experienced volunteers every day for the rest of camp. This component of the week’s curriculum is one of the most important as it enables children who would naturally shy away from the larger crowd of our camp to be able to plug in to a smaller group of children close to their age. Everything that we do throughout camp is done with intention and purpose.
Mentorship Makes the Difference
“Sports is one of the most accurate metaphors for all of life in that there is adversity, sacrifice, commitment, and there is togetherness or teamwork.” -Brandon Smith, L.A.C.E.S. Volunteer
Brandon Smith is a local pastor with Peace City Church and has a heart for serving all people, including refugee children. Every day during camp, Brandon gave up several hours in his schedule to come sit with our L.A.C.E.S. children and teach them values like respect, self-esteem, and sacrifice. At the end of each day, our volunteer coaches would reward individual children on their teams with candy bars based on who represented that day’s value the best. It was a really incredible time for the children where they learned that their actions matter and were then rewarded publicly for those actions. Behind everything that we do, the mentorship of children through our research-backed curriculum is what really makes an impact.
The Final Celebration
On Friday, the last day of camp, coaches, campers, and volunteers gathered together for one final “good bye.” However, this closing group meeting was different from the rest that week. In order to celebrate the success of another Refugee Youth Soccer Camp and to ensure that the children could continue practicing what they had learned, we gave every child a soccer ball of their own. It was an important moment where the kids could leave camp with tangible reminder of the values they would continue using for the rest of their lives.
We Can’t Do It Without You!
The work we do day in and day out at L.A.C.E.S. is crucial for the children we serve and we are honored to do it. However, without the commitment, support, and generous donations of our world-changing partners, our programming and initiatives would not be possible. As an organization founded on integrity and respect for others, we work diligently to use the funds given to us with the utmost ethics and efficiency. If you would like to begin donating monthly to the world-changing work of L.A.C.E.S., you can visit here for more information and become a Game Changer, today! For all one-time donations, visit here to make a contribution to our work both in the United States and in Liberia!