One girl’s soccer-gear donation drive benefits players near and far
Rush Soccer not only develops players to their fullest potential, but it also incorporates life lessons in teamwork, patience, perseverance and, in the case of its REACH program, community service.
At its annual RushFest event in Colorado last summer, Rogers Park sixth-grader Samantha “Jo” Sees experienced this first hand. As one of Alaska Rush’s most accomplished athletes – she recently returned from a Rush International soccer championship in Italy – Sees also took lessons she learned there to expand her charitable giving back here.
REACH stands for Rush Equipment Assisting Children, and originated at Rush headquarters in Colorado. The goal is to provide equipment, especially uniforms, to needy players and teams through fund raising, gear collection and other creative efforts. During Sees’ RushFest experience last summer, she took part in a REACH-sponsored event that then spurred her into action once back home.
“In sixth grade, we have to do a project called ROPES – Rite of Passage Experiences,” said Sees. “We had to choose some sort of topic to learn about or that we were passionate about and it’s supposed to help the community.”
Sees lives, breathes and eats soccer, so it didn’t take long for her to land on a topic: collect and provide gear to local students who might need it. She spent months setting up gear-collection boxes at local elementary schools and soccer locations like the Dome.
“She got so much gear, clothing of all sizes, cleats … it was pretty amazing,” said Jo’s mother, Jen Sees.
From November through December, Jo meticulously recorded each pair of goalie gloves, each size of cleats, the condition of each donated soccer ball and the donor location for each piece. In the end, she collected 721 items. The donations were spread between two groups – Jo worked with Catholic Social Services to distribute 412 items to local refugees living in Alaska and the remaining 309 items went to players in Monrovia, Liberia, where a local soccer mom recently moved with her family to do aid work.
“When she saw how much gear there was, she started crying,” said Jo of Carol Odinzoff, who with her son Aidan now lives in Liberia and helped start a local soccer club there.
The impact locally was the same, Jo said. On Jan. 3, she helped distribute the rest of the gear to refugees here in Alaska. Children who’d never owned a pair of cleats eagerly snatched up items she had pulled out of abandoned lost-and-found boxes.
“It’s crazy just being able to see how happy the refugees in Alaska were,” Jo said. “It made me realize we’re spoiled.”
Mom Jen agrees. Soccer, in this case, has taught her daughter about much more than kicking a ball around.
“She has always been very empathetic, but this has amplified it,” she said.
Word of Jo’s ambitious school project has since gained the attention of Alaska Rush administrators. Technical director Eli Ulvi recently “hired” the 12-year-old as REACH coordinator for Alaska Rush. Bring new and used soccer equipment to the REACH field near headquarters during this year’s Alaska Airlines Cup.
“I think all of us will benefit from what (Jo) settles into as an adult in whatever community she ends up in,” said Dan Barker, who was principal at the school when Jo started the project. “Samantha’s project had some real long stretching tendrils there. She is really an exceptional and phenomenal student.”
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