Last year, the Multnomah Athletic Foundation 2019 Impact Award was awarded to not one, but two highly effective local nonprofits that teamed up and tapped into the power of soccer to support at-risk youth.
Parrott Creek, an established social services organization with a 50-year history, helps adjudicated youth stabilize their lives through residential programs. Street Soccer USA’s Portland chapter strives to empower underserved communities, and in particular, prevent homelessness, which can happen when at-risk youth transition into new living situations. After connecting through a Parrott Creek board member, the two organizations realized their missions were complimentary. They combined forces and worked together to launch a successful soccer program tailored to 13-18-year old boys residing at Parrott Creek.
More than just a game
Soccer practice has proven to be an ideal environment for the youths to learn and apply skills that transfer to daily life, including “showing up,” “playing the plan” and “adjusting the plan.” Their efforts are supported by Sal Contreras, a talented and compassionate soccer coach who offers on-the-spot guidance geared towards individual team members. “The great thing about soccer is that with Sal’s coaching, the guys learn you can bounce back from adversity – if you miss a goal, there’s another opportunity to do better almost immediately,” says Adam Lewis, managing director of Street Soccer USA-Portland.
From Parrott Creek’s vantage point, a challenging soccer game creates opportunities for youths to manage personal stress triggers in real time. “Let’s say someone accidently gets kicked during practice. We can talk about that – and work with the person on how he dealt with it in the moment,” explains Parrott Creek program manager, Leah Lamb.
Off the field, the Parrott Creek staff continues to actively nurture and build on the boys’ experiences and lessons learned during play. “What Street Soccer USA offers is different than traditional sports coaching. This is not just about the game or the score – this is about using soccer to teach boys how to do something well in a careful and considered way,” says Neil Davies, Parrott Creek’s director of programs. The youths’ ability to harness and apply these life skills is especially important when they leave Parrott Creek, and begin their transition into a different living situation or back into society.
Popular and effective: a winning combination
The successful collaboration between Parrott Creek and Street Soccer USA is best illustrated by its popularity with the boys. Soccer practice is encouraged, but not required – and there was 100% attendance throughout each 8-week session. According to Parrott Creek’s executive director, Simon Fulford, “What helped take the soccer program to the next level is that both Parrott Creek and Street Soccer USA know what they do well. And when you’re clear on what you do well, you’re clear about what partnerships work best to serve the youth,” Fulford explains. “Plus, when both organizations’ initiatives are well-resourced, that’s when the combined efforts really reap exponential results.”
The results are best reflected by the youths served by both organizations. The caring and smartly executed soccer program allows the boys to build important life skills while experiencing the joys of playing a team sport with their peers. “Playing soccer helps them feel like normal kids,” says Lamb. Perhaps that’s the greatest reward.
By Laurie Harquail
Originally published in the November 2019 issue of The Winged M magazine.
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