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A Community Champion

A Community Champion

In the summer of 2015, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) became the official education partner of Major League Soccer (MLS). This groundbreaking partnership would allow both athletes and staff to gain access to higher education.

Then, in 2016, the U.S. Soccer Foundation teamed up with adidas, MLS, and SNHU for the 20-for-20 Mini-Pitch Initiative in honor of MLS’ 20th season, which would see one mini-pitch come to each MLS club’s city.


In addition to the mini-pitch donation, SNHU also committed to providing full scholarships to one community member at each organization. “We loved the ability to go across North America – both the United States and Canada – and build safe places to play for kids often in underserved communities,” says SNHU’s Stephen Thiel. “Where it really became a no-brainer for us was the ability to identify community champions in each of these club marketplaces and deliver a full scholarship in partnership with each mini-pitch event.”

WHO TO CHOOSE?

For SNHU, the main question to answer when selecting an individual to receive a scholarship through the 20-for-20 Mini-Pitch Initiative was fairly straightforward: who would lead their communities in the future and simply might not have had equitable access to education in the past?

In Dallas, this community champion was Leonda Kelley, who grew up going to the very same community center at which she has worked for more than a decade, the Moorland Family YMCA.

When Keith Vinson, the YMCA’s Vice President of Operations, was approached about who should receive the scholarship, he immediately thought of Leonda. “She was just the right fit for it,” Keith remembers. “She is a person that has worked in the Y for a long time. She’s a wife, a mother, that just needed some success in her life as it related to education, and she was one that I thought would be dedicated toward the process.”

At the time, Leonda had been going to school – taking one class at a time – at a local university, but the financial burden and the timing of her classes made things difficult. “Going to school can be costly and I didn’t have a lot of scholarship money or anything like that,” she says.

Leonda describes the moment she heard that she would be receiving the scholarship as a godsend. Her thoughts then almost instantaneously went to her parents. “I have really good parents. I knew that they really wanted me to go to college and get my degree,” she says. “Now I’ve got this scholarship, there’s so many people that thought enough of me to give me this opportunity, this chance, so with that I can’t let anybody down. When I told my mom and dad, it was just happiness, I don’t know how else to describe it.”

GROUND-LEVEL IMPACT

Since receiving a scholarship from SNHU in 2016, Leona has found that the flexibility in her course schedule has suited her much better, allowing her to more easily balance work, life, and school. “I like college so much more now because it’s online,” she says. As the senior program director at the Y, Leonda wears several hats, so being able to arrange her class time in a way that best suits her schedule has proven to be incredibly valuable.

Leonda is also finding that she can apply a lot of what she is learning in school to her professional life. “My degree is in community health and that is basically what I do in my job right now,” she says. “Even though we’re the YMCA…we focus on the whole person – mind, spirit, and body. All these classes help me so much in my everyday job.”

And Leonda is not the only one who has noticed a positive change. “You know how sometimes you can almost just physically see a shift in someone? That’s what I saw,” Keith says of Leonda. “I just saw her behaviors related to her work patterns change. I saw her thought process change as it relates to looking at how to handle conflict, how to do programming differently, how to look at things differently…I saw her reach out into the community even more so. It was just this whole thing of confidence that she gained when she started back up [with school]. It was the intentionality around her schedule to be able to put in the time that she needed to succeed.”

On a personal level, Leonda steadfastly plays the role of community ambassador through it all. “She has a huge impact on the facility in terms of our overall operations just because of the lives that she touches day in and day out,” Keith raves.

And while the youth at the YMCA might not know every detail about the hard work Leonda (who can be known to the kids as “snack lady”) has been putting in over the last four years, Keith maintains that what they do see “is this proactive person who is making change and making an impact in our community.”

A DIFFERENT TRANSFORMATION

Leonda is quick to point out that the mini-pitch has also had significant, positive effects on local community members. “It was just an old basketball court before the mini-pitch got there,” she remembers. “It was just to the point that we had little potholes out there and it was sometimes kind of dangerous to try and play full court because you didn’t want to trip or twist an ankle.”

“When you think of the YMCA, you think about all the kids in the program. Kids should be outside playing,” she stresses. “For Moorland, for a short while, we didn’t have a lot of it out there mostly because the equipment was really old. It was just really sad.”

But now, with the addition of the mini-pitch, Leonda says “it just tied everything together.”

“The biggest impact has been the organic movement that it’s had,” Keith says about the mini-pitch. “We have young adults, teenagers coming playing on the mini-pitch on a regular basis. I like the organic play on it because people know this is a safe place where they can come and they can engage.”

Importantly, says Keith, “they know that they have a place here that they can come and play soccer.”

The mini-pitch has created such a buzz around soccer, in fact, that the YMCA is planning to offer indoor futsal programming in the fall to keep up with demand.

CONNECTING THROUGH SOCCER

Leonda’s story in Dallas is just one of many success stories to come out of the 20-for-20 Mini-Pitch Initiative. It’s also the other scholarship recipients, the local youth who have new safe places to play, and the special relationships that have developed through the project that have defined its success. “To see the impact that a local sports team has on their community and then, ultimately, seeing the kids’ faces when we opened the pitch and allowed them to play futsal, that’s [what] they’re going to remember for a long time,” says Stephen.

For Keith, the project “went far beyond kids playing soccer. It gave an opportunity to someone who really loves young people and really loves to see them succeed and it went to the right person.”

Thinking back on this whole journey – the stressful times of juggling school, work, and everyday life – Leonda reflects on how, as a recent graduate as of this month, she has been able to overcome the obstacles and challenges in her life. “I’d like to think that hard work really does pay off. Anything worth having is worth working for. If you’re not willing to put in the work, then whatever you’re putting into it is exactly what you’re going to get out of it.”

Her advice? “You just have to have a positive outlook.”

The mini-pitch at the Moorland Family YMCA in Dallas is one of more than 265 U.S. Soccer Foundation mini-pitches across the country. Interested in bringing a mini-pitch to your community? Suggest a location here.

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Our Partners

  • adidas

    adidas, the Foundation's Safe Places to Play - Mini-Pitch Partner, supports providing children in underserved communities with safe play spaces nationwide. adidas strives to be the globally leading and most popular sporting goods brand. Dedicated to innovation,  adidas embraces creativity and seeks to be socially responsible in all facets of its brand. For more information, please visit adidas.com.

  • APT

    APT (Advanced Polymer Technology), the Foundation’s Partner for Acrylic Coating Products, is a global leader in high performance sports surfaces. APT provides people around the world with safe, reliable, performance enhancing surfaces. APT’s Laykold Masters acrylic surfacing system will be the official surface of an estimated 500 mini-pitches. For more information on APT, please visit www.sportsbyapt.com.

  • AstroTurf

    For athletes and soccer enthusiasts, AstroTurf® is redefining how synthetic soccer fields are built and perform. The brand offers advanced, state-of-the-art synthetic turf systems with proprietary engineered technologies. A growing number of clubs, high schools, colleges, professional sports teams and municipalities continue to select AstroTurf’s LigaTurf-branded products for their premium quality, technical superiority, and safety. To learn more, visit the company’s recently redesigned website, www.astroturf.com/soccer. - See more at: https://ussoccerfoundation.org/article/astroturf-partners-with-the-u.s.-soccer-foundation-as-a-national-partner-for-field-building-program#sthash.FL8E8bAM.dpuf

  • CHA

    CHA Sports, the Foundation's Supplier for Soccer Facility Design and Planning Services, provides community partners with expertise in soccer facility design. CHA Sport's full service approach allows the company to build world-class projects without breaking budgets. For more information, please visit chacompanies.com

  • The DICK'S Sporting Goods Foundation

    DICK’S Sporting Goods and The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation believe that participation in sports makes people better. Since 2014, DICK’S and The DICK’S Foundation have pledged more than 0 million to support youth sports teams and leagues in need.  Through our Sports Matter initiative we strive to increase awareness for underfunded youth athletics nationwide and provide much-needed support through equipment, uniform and monetary donations. For more information on Sports Matter, visit SportsMatter.org.

  • Hunter

    Hunter Industries, the Foundation's National Partner for Irrigation Equipment, is one of the world's leading manufacturers of irrigation equipment for turf, landscape and soccer fields.  Hunter Industries' focus is on landscape irrigation with a significant part of its business centering on the proper care and maintenance of sports turf. For more information, please visit hunterindustries.com. Please contact Lynda Wightman, 406-273-3073, lynda.wightman@hunterindustries.com with any questions regarding the U.S. Soccer Foundation's grants program.

  • Johnson & Johnson

    Johnson & Johnson, the Foundation’s grant partner, is dedicated to supporting the next generation of female leaders by providing greater access to girls’ youth soccer programming in underserved communities nationwide. As the world’s largest and most broadly based healthcare company, Johnson & Johnson strives to create healthier communities, and put a healthy mind, body and environment within reach of everyone, everywhere. For more information, please visit www.jnj.com.

  • Kwik Goal

    Kwik Goal, the Foundation’s Official Supplier for goals, seating, boundary equipment, training equipment and coaching accessories, will be supporting a variety of Foundation programs and initiatives including: Soccer for Success, National Training and the Safe Places to Play program. Over thirty years ago, Kwik Goal was founded on the revolutionary concept of providing transportable goals for coaches at all age levels. Since that time, Kwik Goal has continued to focus on helping coaches and soccer programs create safe and dynamic learning environments by supplying high quality, safety tested soccer goals, field equipment and training equipment to the domestic and international market. For more information, please visit Kwikgoal.com.

  • MLS WORKS

    MLS WORKS, Major League Soccer's community outreach initiative, is dedicated to addressing important social issues and serves as a platform for both League and club philanthropic programs. MLS WORKS seeks to establish Major League Soccer as a leader for improving the lives of people through sport. MLS WORKS is committed to improving the communities where we live and play our games by executing national programs and legacy projects, charitable giving campaigns, and undertaking various initiatives in underserved communities.

  • Musco

    As a proud corporate partner of the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Musco is dedicated to helping the major charitable arm of American soccer create new opportunities through high-quality sports lighting. Their Total Light Control—TLC for LED™ technology is engineered as a system with lighting, structural, and electrical components designed to work together for streamlined installation and long-term reliability. TLC for LED delivers superior field lighting while eliminating glare and spill from impacting surrounding neighborhoods. And Musco’s long-term warranty covering parts and labor means U.S. Soccer Foundation partners don’t have to handle any maintenance on their system, or pay for it, for 25 years. Visit https://ussoccerfoundation.org/grants/ to learn more about the grant program and application process.

  • SCORE Sports

    SCORE Sports, the preferred provider of shin guards to the Foundation’s Soccer for Success program, is a family-owned and operated business specializing in sports equipment, uniforms and apparel. SCORE is an industry leader and has been involved in the sports community for over 40 years. SCORE outfits athletes with high-quality uniforms that SCORE develops, designs and manufactures in the U.S. SCORE takes pride in working with various non-profit groups and causes to give back to athletes who may need some extra support to play the game they love. SCORE is environmentally cautious with the materials it uses for its products and does its part in minimizing our environmental footprint. SCORE proudly offers a wide variety of products to provide customers with a one-stop shop for all your soccer needs. For more information, please visit scoresports.com.

  • Soccer.com

    Soccer.com, the Foundation's National Partner for Soccer Equipment and Uniforms, was founded in 1984 to provide high quality soccer gear at reasonable prices through its nationally circulated catalog. Soccer.com embodies a passion for the game that extends to the people who play, coach and support soccer. For more information, please visit soccer.com.

  • Target

    Target announced a national partnership with Safe Spaces to Play in 2017, along with a million commitment to build 100 new soccer play spaces with the U.S. Soccer Foundation by 2020. This is the latest initiative in the Minneapolis-based retailer’s multi-dimensional approach to the sport of soccer, bringing the game to more kids and families across the country, and unlocking access and increasing involvement at all levels.

  • TGI Worldwide

    TGI Worldwide, the Foundation’s National Partner for Visual Branding (Signage, Event Décor, Pageantry, Sponsorship Activation), Perimeter Field Board Systems, Creative Services and Event Operations is proud to support a variety of initiatives and programs throughout the United States. Headquartered in the U.S., TGI is an internationally recognized sports marketing company delivering high profile Visual Branding, Live Event Management, LED, and cutting edge Digital Sports Applications to enrich the experience at major events and deliver commercial impact for sponsors and partners. The company has a 20-year history in providing its various solutions for many top-tier domestic and international events, organizations, teams and companies, with proven success and turn-key solutions across 1000+ events, 160+ cities and 50+ countries globally.

    For more information on our services, please visit https://www.worldwidetgi.com or contact Mike Squire at msquire@worldwidetgi.com / Phone: 312-371-5852.

  • World Soccer Shop

    Launched in 2001, World Soccer Shop is an online soccer retailer based in Birmingham, Alabama. It carries one of the world’s widest selections of officially-licensed products from the sport’s top brands and teams. World Soccer Shop is passionate about soccer and endeavors to spread the beautiful game around the world, especially to those in areas of need. For more information, please visit www.worldsoccershop.com.

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