The impact that sports can have in changing the world is truly incredible. Woza and each of their partners in Costa Rica, Peru, Malawi and South Africa are Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) organizations working towards supporting individual growth and impacting communities through the power of soccer. However, in addition to their partners around the world, Woza also has partners right here in the United States who are using the game to change lives.
Woza has three domestic partners who all use soccer as a way to improve their local communities. These partners are Elm City Internationals, South Bronx United and Open Goal Project. The partnership between Woza and their domestic partners gives soccer players who otherwise wouldn’t have access to these experiences, the opportunity to attend a Woza trip as part of Woza’s Scholarship Program. The scholarship program awards full scholarships to 11 players (the number of players on a soccer field for one team), some of whom take part in one of Woza’s partners programs. Having individuals from these organizations adds great value to each Woza trip, while giving players an opportunity to explore the world and try new things that they may not have been given a chance to experience otherwise.
Based in New Haven, Connecticut, Elm City Internationals (ECI) is Woza’s most recent partner organization. ECI sent two students to Costa Rica with Woza this past summer. The Woza experience greatly impacted each of the students, allowing them to mature and gain new perspectives. Apart from the partnership with Woza, ECI is doing some pretty amazing work. ECI is a college preparatory program that uses soccer to engage low-income youth in academics. Boys seventh grade through college age can participate in various ECI programs. The students in ECI meet three days a week for four hours and their time is divided up by a structured soccer practice and academics, such as reading novels and writing assignments. The main components of ECI include soccer, mentoring, tutoring, community service, reading and writing enrichment, college counseling, college scholarships and college follow-through. Lauren Mednick, ECI founder and executive director, says, “Soccer is really what captures all the children into our program,” but the boys, who are predominately immigrants and refugees, benefit from the one-on-one tutoring, guidance through the college process, and academic enrichment. A unique part of the work ECI does is help their students get into college and continue to work with them until they graduate. Always looking to make connections for their students, ECI encourages individuals who know alumni, coaches or anyone else from a college environment to reach out and put ECI in touch with people they know.
Not too far from ECI is another one of Woza’s fantastic partners: South Bronx United (SBU). Based in New York City, South Bronx United aims to make a difference in this community by engaging at-risk, immigrant, and first-generation youth through their passion for soccer. Besides providing a recreational league and academy program for kids in the area, SBU helps the kids with academics, college prep, leadership and character development, health and wellness, immigrant legal services, and other services. SBU is able to be successful because the kids (ages 4-19) have such a passion for soccer. Soccer is what brings the kids into the programs, allows them to grow as individuals, and helps them change their lives.
Woza Director Kate Silverman (L) with a SBU participant and Woza Soccer Scholarship Recipient
Despite all of SBU's accomplishments on and off the field, success is not always that easy, because “the needs of the community are always changing,” says Bridget Mahon, SBU Academy Program Director. So the challenge for SBU, Mahon says, is trying to “provide the supports that are most essential to our students and families so they can have access to these opportunities and so that college or other post secondary options become realistic.” Besides the great opportunities SBU provides youth through their programs, the additional chance to attend a Woza trip is something very special for them. It’s a unique chance for the kids to gain confidence and leadership skills and return to the SBU community sharing what they’ve learned and continuing their development with a new perspective.
From one big city to another, Woza’s partner Open Goal Project (OGP) focuses on using soccer as a vehicle for cultural enrichment, higher educational opportunities and greater life experiences in Washington, D.C. OGP began when co-founders, Amir Lowery and Simon Landau realized there were several individuals in the D.C. community who did not have access to travel teams or high-level soccer, and all the benefits that come with participating in a team sport. These benefits include improved confidence, teamwork, and leadership skills, as well as the physical exercise. Lowery and Landau believe everyone, despite socio-economic factors, should be given the opportunity to play soccer.
Simon Landau (L) with several OGP participants, Woza Leaders, and Woza Director, Kate Silverman
Landau says they quickly realized there are “hidden barriers associated with playing,” that are difficult for some families to overcome, such as costs (for travel, equipment, and transportation), language barriers and lack of available information about soccer opportunities. Since these factors present real challenges for many families, it can be easy for them to not engage in soccer, despite the multiple benefits. Therefore, OGP provides opportunities for co-ed soccer players, ages eight to eighteen, that include soccer trainings, pick up games, travel soccer, camps, and college clinics. Most of the kids’ activities, such as school, soccer, and hanging out with friends, all happen in just the one area where they live. So for the kids in D.C. to attend an international Woza trip and have a chance to deviate from everything they are familiar with, explore a new culture, and meet people from around the U.S. and the world is truly a life-changing experience, “all the while having that really powerful connector of soccer at the center of it,” says Landau. “It not only provides such a unique perspective and provides this opportunity, but it also makes it a tangible thing” for the OGP soccer players.
The opportunity Woza provides to a diverse group of individuals from various locations around the U.S. is something special. These SDP organizations show that soccer - whether it is played inside a gym in Connecticut, under the lights in D.C., on a turf field in the Bronx, on a beach in Costa Rica, on a field in Malawi or on a patch of grass between valleys in Peru - has the ability to impact any community. Despite the different communities where soccer is being played or the methods an organization uses in creating impact, it’s important to realize that we are all working towards the same goal. As OGP’s Landau says, “support Woza; that supports us” since we are all trying to use soccer to change the world.