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  • Sophia Goethals, SWB

First Half Reflections: SWB Hub Highlights and Milestones from Spring 2023

In a soccer game, the halftime whistle is a time to step back, reflect, and discuss the things that have gone well (and those which could have been better) in preparation for the next half. As we enter the summer season, the halfway mark of the calendar year, we’re excited to do just that – to reflect upon and celebrate some of the most impactful mission moments from the past spring season.

Looking back at the first six months of the year, there is little doubt that the Soccer Without Borders (SWB) community has a lot of incredible accomplishments to be proud of. Through trauma-informed methodologies and locally-developed strategies adapted to meet youth where they are, our hubs in Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nicaragua, Oakland, and Uganda have worked tirelessly to ensure that the SWB mission is advanced. Here are just a few highlights that encompass our areas of focus and impact: supporting refugee and newcomer youth, promoting gender equity, forging new leadership pathways, and focusing on youth development.

SWB leverages soccer, the world’s global language, to provide newcomers and refugees with the opportunity to plug into a safe and welcoming space where they can find community, build friendships, receive academic support, and so much more. These highlights are emblematic of SWB’s work to create belonging for newcomers.

  • On January 21st, SWB Colorado partnered with Muslim Youth for Positive Impact (MYPI) – a local non-profit that aims to empower youth to make a difference in their communities – to host a clinic for newcomer Afghan youth, themed, “Welcome! We’re Glad You’re Here.” Approximately 40 participants between the ages of 3 and 18 got the opportunity to come together in a safe space to play games and make new friends.

  • At the end of April, SWB Uganda took 68 participants on an end-of-semester educational tour at the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Center. The trip was to honor the excellent attendance of these participants, their positive attitudes, and their contributions to their communities. Events like these which happen off of the soccer pitch provide participants with an opportunity to experience new things while celebrating their individual achievements and personal growth.

  • For the first time ever, SWB Massachusetts teams all played on one single field this past spring. Coaches drove participants from Springfield (two hours away), to join participants from Somerville, Chelsea and East Boston teams on SWB’s home turf field. Moments like these expand participants’ sense of community, widening supportive connections between participants and coaches and forging new friendships.

SWB Uganda at there end-of-semester educational tour at the Wildlife Conservation Education Center.

At SWB we address barriers of all kinds to make sure that girls from diverse cultural backgrounds have opportunities to get in the game. Our gender equity strategies also include boys and men in these important efforts, discussing positive masculinity, healthy relationships, and ways to build authentic allyship. Here are some springtime highlights which have worked to advance these efforts.

  • At SWB Oakland the newly formed Tennyson High School Girls’ Team participated in and won the spring edition of the Global Goal Five League, just their second semester participating. The league is a safe space for girls learn and grow, and access a supportive community of peers and mentors. This accomplishment is not only a testament to the amazing dedication of the participants at Tennyson High School program site, but also stands as a reminder of the importance of supporting coaches and female leaders to increase girls’ participation in programs, strengthen their own leadership skills, and build a more inclusive soccer pitch.

  • At SWB Nicaragua, or Fútbol Sin Fronteras (FSF) as it is known locally, alumna coach Reyna Roblero was presented with an award for “Outstanding Female Athlete of the Municipality of Granada in Women’s Football.” The award honored her unwavering commitment to leadership and her promotion and delivery of soccer programs for girls in Granada.

  • The 7th edition of the Kampala Girls League brought together an astounding 650 girls from 34 teams. The event has grown steadily over the years, and become one of the mainstays of programming at SWB Uganda due to its ability to advance gender equality on the soccer pitch and to provide girls at the grassroots level a platform to play, compete, connect, have fun, promote fair play, and develop leadership skills.

  • Fit, Roza, and Aya, participants at our SWB Maryland hub, were featured in a special photo storytelling series by Goal Click designed to put a spotlight upon the refugee experience. Each of the featured participants used photos to tell their own stories while showing the power of soccer and community at SWB.

Reyna Roblero receiving an award for Outstanding Female Athlete in Women's Football.

When designed with thought and care, soccer spaces can provide meaningful and lasting opportunities for both individual and community development. At SWB, we use our spaces to create opportunities for participants to develop their leadership through captainship, refereeing, coaching, public speaking, mentoring, and more. Here are a few examples of leadership pathways at work:

  • Brian Vazquez, an SWB alumnus from Boston, recently attended a series of coach training sessions which will enable him to step into a formal coaching role for SWB Massachusetts! We absolutely love providing pathways for program alumni to become SWB coaches. Not only does this provide former participants with new opportunities for growth and work experience, but it also allows them to become role models to younger participants, showing them that they too can someday step into similar roles of leadership.

  • SWB Oakland held its first ever Elementary School League which spanned more than ten weeks and brought together hundreds of elementary-aged newcomers. The league was not only a success for the young participants, but it also provided valuable leadership opportunities for older SWB participants who served as coaches, referees, field liaisons, and other paid interns.

  • SWB Nicaragua led a girls’ leadership camp in the city of Leon, Nicaragua in partnership with Plan International. The camp, which was designed to strengthen female leadership by empowering girls within local communities, took place over two days and welcomed 50 participants! Training more young women and girls to step into leadership roles across different communities creates more opportunities for leaders who look and sound like their participants, and gives space for people to step into opportunities they might otherwise not have had.

SWB Oakland held its first ever Elementary School League bringing together hundreds of newcomers.

SWB’s approach is centered around meaningful relationships; we strengthen the social fabric of the teams, schools, and communities we are a part of by ensuring that each individual young person feels seen, valued, and supported. We provide safe, supportive, and inclusive environments in which youth form strong connections with peers and supportive adults, where they are safe to be themselves and to explore new ideas and competencies, and where their inherent potential is recognized. All year round, these youth development approaches can be seen across SWB programs and activities. Here are a few spotlights from this past spring:

  • The Vanguard Middle School program site at SWB Maryland held Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) groups throughout the spring. During this time, boys’ groups participated in Coaching Boys Into Men (CBIM), a comprehensive violence prevention program for middle school and high school aged boys designed by our partners at FUTURES Without Violence. Meanwhile, the Vanguard Middle School girls were able to participate in a Leaders in Training session. The girls’ group covered topics like empathy, mental health, self-respect, and body image, and was a place where girls could have the space to explore these topics, work on their confidence and learn how to lead, advocate for themselves and thrive in coed spaces. SEL groups like these teach students essential skills such as managing emotions, setting positive goals, showing empathy, building positive relationships, and making responsible decisions.

  • At our Oakland hub, we piloted a new initiative called the Behavioral Health Program, an innovative program designed to support a participant's mental and behavioral health. Led by UCSF Post-Doctoral Fellow Swapandeep (Swap) Mushiana, the program guides coaches and players through an eight-session plan that is anchored in self determination theory, and seeks to facilitate autonomy, relatedness, and competency via goal-setting, “teammates”, and reinforcing strengths. The program supports youth to overcome obstacles by leveraging their unique skills and their communities to forge new pathways to success.

  • At SWB Colorado, two middle school girls’ programs — one from our Greeley site and one from Aurora site — met for a friendly match with mixed teams of participants from both of these Colorado-based sites. The match was refereed by two high school girls and a celebration was held afterwards to honor the ways in which SWB’s newcomer community was able to grow and connect with one another. Connecting participants in this way helped them realize how a community is larger than just one site or neighborhood. Instead, we are stronger when we are able to connect with and support one another.

SWB Maryland participants working on a Coaching Boys Into Men activity.

These highlights are merely a snapshot of the incredible work that is done at SWB every single day. We are grateful to everybody within the SWB community – staff, volunteers, partners, board members, donors, participants, parents, and more – for their dedication to the mission of using soccer as a vehicle for positive change. Together, we can truly build a more inclusive and equitable world where all young people have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

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