Sports can take us on different paths through life. We all may start our journeys the same way – playing in a youth league, on the streets or grassy fields with our closest friends and family – however as we grow older, our journeys take us in different directions. Six months ago, I was fortunate enough, through hard work and perseverance, to take my love of sport and my commitment to public interest and turn it into a Fellowship opportunity with the U.S. Soccer Foundation. Now more than halfway through 2013, I have spent some time looking inward and identifying how my time at the Foundation has helped my personal and professional development. Over the course of my Fellowship, I have grown closer to my community, better understood the strategic decisions that make nonprofit organizations sustainable, and witnessed firsthand how even a small donation of one’s time or resources can make a difference.
The funny thing is, it seems that the Foundation is also evolving. Since January, the Foundation has taken on new challenges in an effort to continue to grow its programs, and has developed into a nonprofit organization that is equipped to operate in today’s environment.
For instance, the Foundation is preparing to begin the Fall 2013 season of its Soccer for Success program. Only 2 years ago, Soccer for Success was still a budding program, serving 8,000 children in 8 cities. However, with the generosity of the Social Innovation Fund, in 2012 the Foundation was able to undergo a mass expansion of its afterschool program model, more than doubling its participants, and becoming a household name in major markets nationwide. Always striving for innovation, the Foundation is already strategizing and investigating new models of expansion for Soccer for Success, with the goal to elicit change in a sustainable way.
Another example of the Foundation’s evolution can be seen through the Passback program. Beginning in 1989, the program has continuously evolved to become one of the premier programs for equipment collection and redistribution. The Passback program relies heavily on the generosity of individuals, who take it upon themselves to donate their own money, equipment, time, and hard work for the greater good of the game. The ability of the Foundation to continue to solicit large quantities of new and used soccer equipment, and to find terrific but under-resourced organizations in need of Passback donations, is another testament to the organization’s ability to adapt to the current environment.
I am continuously surprised and impressed by the Foundation’s lofty goals, as well as its capacity to meet such through creative and strategic programming and development. One of the reasons I believe the Foundation is able to achieve such growth, especially within Soccer for Success, is that nonprofits are seen today as a source of innovation for solving social problems. Like other nonprofits, the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s smaller scale and greater proximity to the communities enables it to find solutions and improve the social landscape.
And that is where I find myself today. With a few months left in my Fellowship, I have developed an “itch” to join the cause and to improve the world around me. Living in Washington, DC and working for this powerful nonprofit has sparked something within myself, something I wasn’t sure of 6 months ago. I am excited to see what the Foundation has planned over the next 6 months, but I cannot wait to see how I grow and what I learn over that same time, and where it takes me next.