LEADERSHIP BIOGRAPHIES //
Mary McVeigh Connor, Co-Founder and Executive Director || Cambridge, MA
Mary (McVeigh) Connor came to the field of sport-based youth development from a career in professional and collegiate soccer as both a player and coach. An All-America and Scholar All-America as an undergraduate Philosophy major at Dartmouth College, McVeigh was chosen seventh overall in the 2003 WUSA draft, competing for the Philadelphia Charge before heading across the pond to the Icelandic Premier League. Following her playing career, Mary headed to Lehigh University to pursue a Master’s Degree in Sociology while coaching the NCAA Division I women’s soccer team. As Soccer Without Borders first Executive Director, she has built the organization from an all-volunteer program to a nearly $2 million organization with 54 staff, 7 year-round programs serving over 2,500 youth each year. Mary has led the creation of original infrastructure to manage the operations, finances, program outputs, and compliance of Soccer Without Borders as a single 501c3. Under Mary’s leadership, Soccer Without Borders has been recognized by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Sports Award, the FIFA Diversity Award, The Lipman Family Prize by the Wharton School of Business, the US Soccer Foundation’s Impact Award, and the Beyond Sport Collective Impact Award. Mary was honored by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America with the Jerry Yeagley Award for Personal Service for her work with SWB, was elected to the Board of the global network streetfootballworld, and has served on several advisory groups including UNICEFs International Working Group for Safeguarding Children in Sport, Women Deliver’s Girl Power in Play Symposium Committee, and the US Soccer Foundation Symposium Committee, while serving as a jury member for the FIFA Diversity Award in 2018, the World Football Summit, and the Robert Wood Johnson Sports Award.
Ben Gucciardi, Founder and Oakland Director || Oakland, CA
Ben Gucciardi, the Founder of Soccer Without Borders, was honored as a White House Champion of Change for World Refugee Day 2015. An award that reflects Ben’s unique expertise in the field of refugee integration and youth development, his work at the city, national, and global levels has been recognized and replicated. Ben’s career began with his master’s degree in Global Educational Leadership from Lehigh University in 2006, the same year that he launched Soccer Without Borders. Spending his undergraduate years at Lehigh as well, Ben captained the nationally-ranked NCAA Division 1 Lehigh men’s soccer team. Ben went on to play semi-professional soccer with the San Francisco Seals while developing his skills as a coach and growing SWB in Oakland and around the world. In 2014, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America honored Ben with the Jerry Yeagley Award for Personal Service. In addition to his experience on the field, Ben has worked extensively in the fields of coaching and youth development, acting as the Girls' Sports Coordinator and Coaching Coordinator at the Jamestown Community Center in the Mission District of San Francisco. He has studied conflict resolution, interactive theatre, team building, and methods of teaching mindfulness practices to youth. Ben has coached youth ages 5-21 at a variety of skill levels, and is currently a Head Coach within SWB Oakland.
Ben has consulted for leading sports based youth-development organizations in the U.S., Europe, Zambia and South Africa, including Coaching Corps, Women Win, Amandla EduFootball, and Beyond Sport Inc.. He has been a featured presenter at SOCAP, the Urban Soccer Symposium, the Borah Symposium, and the Beyond Sport Summit, among other local events. In addition to his responsibilities with SWB, Ben serves on the Advisory Board for the Baker Center for Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Creativity at Lehigh in Bethlehem, PA. He is fluent in Spanish and proficient in Portuguese in addition to knowing basic French, and resides in Berkeley, CA.
Andrew Syed, Managing Director of Development || Denver, CO
Andrew joins SWB as our first ever Managing Director of Development. He brings two decades of experience working in the human rights and international development arena. Having grown up in Europe, love of soccer is in his DNA and he is proud to have played the sport on 5 continents. From urban and rural communities in Kenya to IDP camps in Afghanistan to high in the Andes in Peru with local indigenous communities, Andrew has seen the simple joy the game of soccer can bring -- even in the most challenging of environments. Andrew has an MA from the University of Denver in International Development and Human Rights. For his efforts around the globe, Andrew was named as one of 50 Activists, Artists and Innovators Changing the World by The Relevant Nation. Prior to joining SWB, Andrew founded The 10/10 Project - a community development effort in Kenya. He has also worked with Amnesty International leading their Demand Dignity campaign and then founded C2D Global Productions - an international documentary production enterprise. He has worked in some amazing places around the world and he is excited to be a part of the SWB family. Currently living in Denver, CO, two Achilles tendon ruptures keep Andrew from completely reliving his playing days as an attacking winger but he manages to stay in the game through coaching at Golden High School.
Lindsey Whitford, Managing Director of Programs || Seattle, WA
Lindsey, SWB's first-ever Managing Director of Programs, has been with SWB since 2010. She was previously Director of SWB Boston and then the first-ever Director of SWB Seattle. Lindsey first joined SWB as a Team Leader in Granada, Nicaragua, joining the national office team as Monitoring and Evaluation Manager upon her return from Nicaragua. As the Boston program was launching, Lindsey rose to the challenge, building the East Boston program from the ground up, managing all aspects of staffing, program development, fund development, partnerships, and implementation, while serving as a coach herself. A former student-athlete from Lewis & Clark College, Lindsey holds a degree in Latin American Studies and earned an Advanced High Certification on the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview for Spanish. She holds a Certificate in Social Impact Strategy from the University of Pennsylvania, has been featured as a speaker at the NSCAA Convention, was a grant reviewer for Mass. Promise Fellows, and was selected as one of six Young Leaders globally by streetfootballworld as a Coordinator for Festival '16 in Lyon, France. She was also named an MLS Community MVP by the New England Revolution for her work at SWB Boston. Lindsey is an avid pug fan and can hold down center back in any back four.
Emily Sherman, Director || Baltimore, MD
Emily has been deeply committed to public service in Baltimore throughout her career, serving as a Transition Support Coordinator with the 21st Century School Buildings Program at Baltimore City Schools and as Chief of Staff for former City Councilman Jim Kraft. Prior to her time in Baltimore, Emily was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia, where she focused on developing after-school programs for girls and improving educational opportunities in some of the most remote areas in her district. Emily completed her undergraduate work at Colgate University, and earned a master's degree in Public Policy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she was selected as a Shriver Peaceworker Fellow. Emily is a certified trainer in Restorative Practices and a lifelong athlete.
Preston Hollis, Boston Director || Boston, MA
Preston first joined SWB’s Boston team in the fall of 2015, volunteer coaching with the middle school boys team. Now, as the Boys Program Associate, he is coaching SWB Boston's inaugural high school boys program as well as coaching SWB’s 4th and 5th grade boys team. Preston graduated with a degree in Economics from Southwestern University where he played for and captained the men's soccer team. Since graduating, he has spent a number of years working in international education first in India and more recently in Japan. In between his international sojourns, he graduated from St. John’s College with a Masters in Liberal Arts. When he’s not coaching, Preston can be found playing soccer, leading mindfulness workshops, and globetrotting.
Casey Thomas, Colorado Director || Denver, CO
Casey first began volunteering with Soccer Without Borders in 2012 while working for Baltimore City Public Schools as a program coordinator for out-of-school programs. Prior to that, she earned a Master’s degree in Sustainable International Development, with concentrations in Youth Development and Coexistence and Conflict Management, from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Casey completed her practicum experience working with a sport for development program in Colombia, using soccer as a tool for life-skills development within the context of a youth employability program, and is also fluent in Spanish.
In 2014, Casey transitioned from volunteer to Baltimore Director. Under her leadership, SWB Baltimore tripled the number of participants served annually while maintaining a near-perfect graduation rate. In the Fall of 2018, Casey headed westward to take on a new role as Director of SWB Colorado, leading the expansion of our current program in Greeley to include programming in Greater Denver. Casey serves on the Alumni Association Board of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, and was a member of the Mayor’s Steering Committee of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs in Baltimore.
Veronica Balladares, Granada Co-Director || Granada, Nicaragua
Veronica Balladares was one of five original SWB Granada coaches in 2008, having seen the program grow since its inception. With a college degree in psychology, Veronica has integrated socio-emotional support and a focus on educational outcomes into the program's weekly activities. One of the most well-respected female players in Granada, Veronica was a mainstay defender and captain of the Granada premier team during its time in the First Division. Veronica has completed several SWB coaching courses, and earned a FIFA youth coaching certification in 2014. Prior to being named Co-Director in 2015, Veronica coached part-time with SWB, leading Team Sweet Lake while holding a full-time job with the Ministry of Health. She was selected to participate in the streetfootballworld-led State Department Exchange between the U.S., Nicaragua, and Colombia, and serves as the SWB representative to the streetfootballworld network in Latin America.
Cesar Morales, Granada Co-Director || Granada, Nicaragua
Cesar has been a part of the program since the very beginning. A well-known figure in the soccer community in Granada, he is team captain and center midfielder in the local men's league for his team FC Carillera. Cesar became the Education Program Coordinator and Bookkeeper in 2014, and joined Veronica as the first-ever Nicaraguan Director in 2015. He holds a college degree in accounting, and coaches Team Fenix in addition to his responsibilities as Director. Cesar is nearly fluent in English and continues to invest in professional development through participation in leadership courses, a U.S. State Department SportsUnited Exchange, and the SWB Program Leaders' Retreat.
Steve Davis, (Voluntary) Director || Kampala, Uganda
Steve grew up in Geneva, a western suburbs of Chicago. He joined SWB Uganda as a Team Leader in 2015, where he served as a financial advisor and assistant coach for the under-10 and under-23 football teams. After completing his year in this role, he stayed in Kampala and to take over as the Program Director. He graduated from the University of Illinois with bachelor’s degrees in Accountancy, Business Process Management and Information Systems/Information Technology. Upon graduation, he worked at a mid-size public accounting firm in the Chicago area for two years where he specialized in working with non-profit clients. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball and soccer, traveling, hiking and mountain biking. He is an avid supporter of Arsenal and dislikes anything associated with cheese.
Shannon Fisher, Seattle Director || Seattle, WA
Shannon joined SWB's Seattle program as director in February 2020. Her goal in life is to continue to do the next right thing. After playing soccer for Ottawa University in Kansas, she moved to London and lived in community with asylum seekers. From there, Shannon attended law school at the University of Kansas. After completion, she held leadership positions at Family Promise affiliates, an organization that used a community building model as a response to family homelessness, with a brief intermission piloting a program as a financial coach for low and moderate income households. Shannon will say yes to any invitation to an adult sports league and loves to watch her kittens dig in the house plants from her Wyze camera.