Building Community and Removing Barriers

Many people across the country may now know JT Dorsey as “Coach JT” given his involvement as a coach-mentor who has led some of the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s pre-recorded Soccer for Success practice sessions during the fall 2020 season. But to the community members and program participants of the JT Dorsey Foundation, Coach JT is so much more.

ADDRESSING A CRITICAL NEED

Lack of transportation is a key reason why many children are unable to play soccer. In fact, according to Trust for Public Land, more than 100 million Americans don’t have a park within a 10-minute walk from home. For young participants of the JT Dorsey Foundation, transportation poses a similar problem. “When we started, we realized that transportation was an issue for kids,” explains JT. “Our Soccer for Success kids were playing in a league that wasn’t necessarily close to their houses and we found out that not a lot of them were able to make it out to games.”

Roughly four years ago, JT wrote in for a community grant that would provide funding to purchase a team van to reduce the transportation barrier for participants. Since then, that van has been a valuable resource to help transport kids to practices, games, events, and even appointments.

Outside of providing a supplemental mode of transportation, the team van has also provided a safe space for players. “It’s a fun van – it’s not just a white van,” says JT. “We’ve got the van tagged and labeled with JT Dorsey Foundation logos. When parents are releasing their kids from the house, it’s clearly marked who they’re getting in with or what organization is coming there. We thought that was important: if we were going to the house to pick somebody up, a parent could look out the window or come to the doorway and see who was there.”

MAINTAINING A SENSE OF COMMUNITY DURING COVID

Today’s current reality is much different than four years ago when JT first purchased the van so that kids could get out to practices and games. While the COVID-19 outbreak had put those outdoor and in-person activities to a halt, JT continued to think about how to best address the needs of his community – with the van, of course.

“During COVID, we were finding kids didn’t have soccer balls,” remembers JT. “We had soccer balls that were donated and we literally would drive up, jump out, and drop soccer balls off in community spaces.”

One memorable moment from the last few months was when JT drove a van full of equipment to a community park with his daughter. There, they noticed a few kids from the neighborhood and asked if they wanted some soccer balls. “My daughter and I were punting them out to people,” JT recalls with a smile.

Outside of gear drop-offs, the van has been used to keep community bonds strong in another way. “When we know we might be in and around those kids’ communities, we’ll go and drive it around,” explains JT. “I might be headed to the grocery store, so I’ll take the van out and ride it by where some of the kids live. There’s been a couple times where the kid is out walking their dog or out playing and they see the big logo come by and they go, ‘Oh, there’s the soccer van!’”

Now, with schools starting back up again and with the fall Soccer for Success season underway, the van still serves a vital purpose – this time, to deliver equipment for the season.

Since a lot of JT’s Soccer for Success participants are going to school virtually, that also means that their Soccer for Success sessions may be delivered virtually. And while the sessions for the fall season are designed so that children can participate with just a “sock”-er ball (a ball made from pairs of socks) and a small space indoors, JT has gone the extra mile to make sure participants have their Soccer for Success equipment.

All of the JT Dorsey Foundation Soccer for Success sites are running the program. Some are operating virtually via Zoom practices with coach-mentors. Others are utilizing the in-person socially distanced curriculum provided by the U.S. Soccer Foundation. By making sure that every child has a ball, JT not only ensures that every child can participate virtually, but that others can also come to in-person practices with their own equipment to maintain their safe spaces. “We still want them to be able to have their own soccer ball and their own things so that when they come, they can do it safely without exchanging soccer balls or anything,” says JT.

So, over the course of one Saturday in September, JT loaded up the van with Soccer for Success equipment and set scheduled times for parents and guardians to come pick up their children’s gear.

“We still want them to be able to have their own soccer ball so that when they participate, they don’t have to have those worries.”

With everything that kids and families must think about this fall, having a soccer ball for practice is one less thing on their list. And JT has made sure that there are still safe spaces where kids can release their stress and connect with their friends and coach-mentors. During this difficult time, he’s making a little bit better—one soccer ball and one Soccer for Success session at a time.

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