Soccer has been an integral part of my life.  I was – and still am – a tough player.  My coaches nicknamed me “Evil Jay,” since I would pretty much do anything to get that soccer ball away from my opponents.  Although I was never captain, I took pride in being a leader on the field.  I communicated often and loudly.  I had good tactical vision and my touch was decent.  When I look back at all those years of soccer, what I remember the most is not the wins or losses (well  I do remember winning the Washington State Cup Finals my senior year!), but what the sport did for me personally.  I became a stronger leader thanks to the sport.  My energy was focused and goal-oriented, and I definitely learned time management.  Teamwork taught me lessons that I would have never learned as an only child.  Most importantly, soccer gave me an outlet.  It allowed me to play away all my negative feelings and let everything go (my apologies to those who felt the blows as result of this!). Above all, soccer kept me out of trouble. Without it, I’m not sure where I would be today.

When I was 8 years, I convinced my mom to stop enrolling me in ballet.  It was not my thing.  Around the same time, someone suggested to her that sports would be a good outlet for all my energy.  She registered me for my first and only AYSO year!  Thus began my world of soccer.

The following year, I made the Eastside F.C. (Football Club) Stars club team.  We traveled across the U.S. and even to Europe to play soccer.  My teammates and I spent much of our free time together, as many of us also played on the District and State Olympic Development Program (ODP) teams.  I went on to play for Washington Soccer Club, Mercer Island High School Varsity, and at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington for a year in college.  Recently, I’ve played in the womens’ Torrance league and with my family on the beach.  I also had the opportunity to coach a girls U-14 team a few years ago, and I have a feeling I was paid back for a bit of my own youthful attitude.

I see that same attitude in the children in the refugee camps we visit – they LOVE SOCCER. Unfortunately, they don’t have the equipment to play the game formally.  They tie rope together or sew old socks into balls to create anything round that they can kick. They listen to games over the radio and debate who are the best players in the world. After the violence in 2008, most organizations who provided sports equipment left because the situation became too volatile.  i-ACT never backs down from an opportunity, and we have two amazing programs starting this month:

iPlay United: Throughout the month of October, Manhattan Beach Sand and Surf soccer club will be collecting new and gently used soccer and volleyball equipment, fundraising, and sending letters and drawings to the kids in the refugee camps. There is nothing like the smile a kid gives when they get a soccer ball or jersey.  It becomes their most prized possession.  I can’t wait to deliver this next round of equipment. You can learn more about the program here.

Darfur United – a refugee soccer team: i-ACT will create a living documentary of the creation of the first Darfur soccer team to represent all the tribes and refugees living in camps in eastern Chad.  It’s an ambitious project, but when I think about the end outcome, the pride the refugees will feel in representing Darfur as they play in an international tournament, tears well in my eyes.  It really is an opportunity of a lifetime. To help make this program a reality visit our page at Indiegogo

These projects have the opportunity to provide the same skills and lessons I learned through soccer and so much more to thousands of refugee children in the camps. They deserve the right to play – and the right to grow.

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