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.

 

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