Each year, soccer becomes more accessible to the youth of Grand Rapids thanks to the efforts of a number of committed families and local businesses going #BeyondTheField. Dick’s Sporting Goods is one such business. It is due to their generosity that the boys in the picture above were outfitted with Nike indoors for their league at MSA Woodland this winter.
Many of these young and talented players were identified through the outreach program provided by the River City Futbol Club. The outreach program began three years ago as a free soccer camp at Martin Luther King Park. Since that time, the program has expanded tremendously to a number of parks throughout Grand Rapids and serving a number of disadvantaged youth in the community who would not have access to soccer otherwise.
Some of the young men currently participating on our refugee soccer teams came to the area in the last 3-5 years fleeing the war and political turmoil of their native Rwanda. As a result of the RCFC outreach program, currently 34 high school refugees (some pictured below) are participating in a one of a kind soccer opportunity. They are playing club soccer this winter and spring and have been offered an opportunity to showcase their talents potentially leading to a chance to play in college.
We’ve now formed two different teams, a younger and an older age group team. Coach Eric Hollis and Coach Jeff Merritt have been transporting the players in the 15 passenger van (pictured below) or in their own personal vehicle to get the boys to and from practice and games. Occasionally the players are able to use public transportation thanks to the Rapid who has generously provided bus passes for the boys.
Eric Brown, one of the young refugee players stated that, “Almost all of us know each other from the same camp in Rwanda. Our only access to soccer in the United States has been playing for fun in parks or the streets as the weather has permitted but for the past couple of months, we’ve been allowed to train and play games at MSA Woodland once a week and it has been awesome.”
Coach Jeff Merritt is the practice and game coach of the older boys, “It’s been an adjustment for these boys to play organized soccer but it has been an awesome experience to see them grow as players and as a team. The boys are skilled, they love the game, and with a little bit of organization they are playing well against premier level teams in the area. ”
Through coaching these boys, we’ve found three different ways that YOU can help our work with our refugee friends:
We are in need of donations of black soccer socks. Black ones are preferred, however we’ll take any! If you would like to donate socks please drop them off at the MSA Woodland front desk anytime in the next 2 weeks.
We are also in need of adult sized shin guards. Please drop them off at the front desk at MSA Woodland anytime in the next 2 weeks!
Most importantly, we are in need of volunteers who can assist us with collecting documentation for their international clearance to play in sanctioned outdoor leagues! If you are interested helping in this way, please email firstname.lastname@example.org!
Thanks for making the game more accessible to ALL of the youth in Grand Rapids!