Baltimore, MD- "Families are resettled in Baltimore every day, but what does it really mean to be settled? Their basic needs are met – with housing, clothing and SNAP benefits, and children are enrolled in school. Parents hope to get a job within the first few months so that they can pay the rent on their new apartment. They begin to learn new English words and phrases. Is this being settled? Or is there more to it?" SWB Maryland Director Emily Sherman posed these questions to an audience of over 200 community members at Brown Advisory on August 15. She continued, "At SWB we strive for our students to not only feel settled, but to feel safe, to feel welcomed, and to feel joy. We want SWB participants to feel that same feeling you felt when you knew Baltimore was home. That feeling that keeps you here regardless of the headlines."
Presented by Henkel, the event marked 10 years of Soccer Without Borders in Maryland, a milestone that inspired alumni, volunteers, former staff, and supporters from near and far to gather together in celebration. The evening featured speakers, local cuisine and drinks, and a performance by the talented Conjunto Bruja. During the evening, current and former SWB staff members Gina Gabelia, Katherine Sipes, and Stephanie Wolfe, presented awards to Gloria Jenkins of the Goodnow Community Center, Tim Foster from Mr. Tim's Bus Rides, and the Loyola Center for Community Service and Justice for their significant contributions to a decade of impact.
Soccer Without Borders Maryland was launched in Baltimore City in 2009 by Jill Pardini, who was a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University at the time. The early stages of the program focused on a team of middle school aged refugee boys, including now-alumnus Warshan Hussin, who spoke about his experience being resettled to Baltimore from his home country of Iraq, via Syria, in 2009. "Living in Baltimore as a kid can be really tough, especially when you look different and speak differently. I was there the second day of Soccer Without Borders; it gave me a family, where I can be myself. I didn't know how difficult it would be for us [refugees] coming to Baltimore. You can build up so much anger...but I learned from Coach Jill to take that and turn it into something positive," he shared.
Over the course of a decade, the program has grown from one team to a welcoming and robust out-of-school time program serving over 500 refugee and immigrant youth annually through soccer, academic support, English language instruction, and community-building. During these years, the program and the city of Baltimore have seen their fair share of challenges, many of which have put Baltimore in the national spotlight. SWB Co-Founder Mary Connor reflected on this journey and the urgency of our work, "When I think about the ways the world has changed since Soccer Without Borders began, I think that our work is more urgent now than it was then. That is frustrating to say, because we have worked tirelessly to break barriers and create opportunities for thousands of young people every year. But today there are 70 million people in the world displaced; that's one out of every 108 people in the world. They are displaced by climate, by war, by famine, by politics, and by persecution. These challenges are all of ours and it's easy to feel helpless. I'm here to tell you that, to a person, Soccer Without Borders is something that makes a difference. It is something that you can do."
The evening brought together generations of Soccer Without Borders family, from members of that first team, to original staff members, to current partners and future supporters. Connor emphasized the power of community, reflecting "The most important thing I've learned from our participants and their families is that there is no "them" and "us," there are just people born into different circumstances. This work is about inclusion, and inclusion is about community. Soccer Without Borders is bringing together people who come from all corners of the Earth, but find themselves here, now. Together, we are building a stronger Baltimore, a more inclusive Maryland, and beyond."
A huge thank you to all of our sponsors, including Presenting Sponsor Henkel.