On June 1, I attended the dinner for the Sports for Social Change Awards for Street Soccer USA (read more about the organization here), at the Embassy of France and I couldn’t have been more wowed by what this organization does and who it affects.
Some people turn to homelessness because of drugs, or alcohol, abuse or even losing a job. On June 1, we met two such individuals who have given themselves a second chance at life, with the aid of the Street Soccer USA program.
After the dinner portion, and the welcoming by Julie Donaldson of Comcast News, Lawrence Cann, Founder of Street Soccer USA, got up to speak about his foundation and what it has done for so many individuals. He showed a short video of the players of Street Soccer and gave us a glimpse into the lives of those this program touched.
The first award of the night was for Leadership in Sports, which was presented by Douglas Palmer, Mayor of Trenton, New Jersey, where the award recipient, Troy Vincent, is from. Troy gave a wonderful speech on the impact of SSUSA and his involvement in the organization – fitting, as he is the VP of NFL Player Engagement Organization.
The second award was presented by Chris Lodgeson – a man who has gone through the SSUSA program and has succeeded. He was homeless until he found SSUSA and through this program, that taught him leadership, responsibility and a myriad of other skills – he now works at Bloomingdales and contributes much of his time to giving back to the organization that helped him. The twist to giving this award: He, himself, was given one, in the form of a grant, by Microsoft, to be trained technically and hired. This grant was given by Mario Rebello, Community Director for Microsoft.
The award that Chris was giving was for Will Garofalo, a Senior at St. Alban’s, for Youth in Service. Will spent his summer last year feeding more than 200 homeless soccer players for the summer world cup, as well as helping to set up the fields every morning. Quoting Chris, “Food is everything. When you are homeless, you miss those home-cooked meals… they become so important.” It’s why Will’s efforts were so appreciated.
Next up: Mark Ein, Owner of the Washington Kastles. Mark has hosted SSUSA, to include over 600 people from 20 cities, including Russia. This year, SSUSA will be held in the brand new Kastles Stadium from June 10-12 (click here for more information).
Sheila Johnson (investor) then came on stage to present the next (and final) award – The Salamander Award for Women’s Impact – to Lisa Wrightsman. This, by far, was the most amazing story – one that left the room completely quiet, with all eyes on her during her speech.
Lisa was in jail 18 months ago in Sacramento, CA. She used to be a professional soccer player for six years and when she was cut from the team, she turned to meth. Everything came crashing to a halt when she was sent to jail. When she was released, SSUSA convinced her to play again, something she was hesitant to do, as it was bringing back painful memories, associated with her downfall. It started with kicking a soccer ball around, then it transitioned to her playing for the SSUSA men’s team. As of today, she has started the first women’s league, called the Lady Salamanders – a name near and dear to Sheila Johnson’s heart, as it’s meaning is that these women can come back, can continue to grow and regenerate and never give up.
The women’s team is new. It started with Lisa getting women involved by kicking around a soccer ball with other women, willing to learn. Then their kids started banding together to play. They’ve played with a few teams but haven’t won – it’s okay though, as these women are just happy to have something that is rewarding in their lives. Still, this team has made such an impact that they have raised $90,000 to come to DC and play.
The evening ended with a live auction to send the SSUSA team to the World Cup in Paris, France. To sponsor an entire team, it was $2000 – a very inexpensive price. By the end, they raised enough money to get the entire team there.
This event was, by far, one of the most extraordinary that I’ve been to. To be able to see some of those that have actually been touched by this organization and the incredibly positive impact it has made, leaves you with a feeling that there are good people in this world who give everything they have to make a difference in one or two people’s lives, and how that turns out having an effect on many more than that.
Lawrence Cann has done something incredibly positive for the world, something that has shown others less fortunate that they are valued in this society and that there are people that do care about them. In turn, it causes these very same people to spread this message to others.
To see some of these players go from having absolutely nothing, living each day only to survive, and then make the decision to turn their lives around through sports, is one of the most inspiring things I can think of.
To donate to or get involved with SSUSA, click here.