Last December, I went on my first Soccer for Success site visit to Nashville, Tennessee. My co-worker, Alex, and I visited Ultimate Goal Ministries’ site at Stonebrook Center, where we watched a Wednesday night practice. Temperatures dropped as soon as the sun set, but the team’s enthusiasm kept spirits high. As we watched the players warm up, Coach Matt and Coach John brought us up to speed on the season so far. Stonebrook is a neighborhood of apartment complexes, and is home to a large refugee population. The majority of the residents are families, many with young children. As a result, the team is very diverse. The coaches often communicate with parents through their children due to language barriers. Yet, despite the team’s differences, everyone is inclusive and welcoming.
The evening of our site visit, Stonebrook’s practice had two new-comers. A pair of young brothers who lived in a nearby apartment saw the other kids playing soccer and came by to check it out. The coaches welcomed them to join in, and immediately, the boys blended in with the rest of the team.
As I watched from the sidelines, the boys’ parents walked over and introduced themselves to me. Their father told me that previously, he worked as a translator for U.S. troops in Iraq. His eyes followed his sons running around with the other kids as he spoke, and he smiled. Seeing his parents from across the pitch, the younger of the two boys ran off the field toward them, grinning. They waved him back, laughing, urging him to return to the game. His mother’s eyes filled with tears. In Iraq, the boys couldn’t play like this, their father explained. They would go to school and come straight home. It was too dangerous to do anything else. When he found an opportunity, “a tiny window” to leave Iraq, he jumped at the chance. “I need to keep my family safe.” They’d been in the United States for less than a month.
As the boys’ father walked to a far corner to take pictures of his sons, their mother asked about my job. I did my best to explain the Foundation’s role, and my presence. She was quiet for a moment, then smiled, understanding. Soccer has brought this community together, blending every background, every story, into one team. “You have a good job,” she said. We stood side by side, watching the team race after each other beneath the lights, shouting, laughing, playing. I smiled back. “I do.”