Clarion

Playing for the Community

Clarion photo Provided by Eliza Herring

Clarion photo Provided by Eliza Herring

By Jennifer Singh, Reporter

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Cleveland varsity soccer star and junior Eliza Herring is using the love of her sport and her passion for volunteering to change and better the lives of kids in Portland’s local community.

Street Soccer USA is a national organization with a goal to change the lives of kids from low-income families through soccer. With programs provided to kids six to 18 years of age, Street Soccer USA focuses on the 33 percent of youth living below the poverty line with graduation rates between 55 and 65 percent.

Herring had the opportunity to coach kids for Street Soccer USA through her Portland City United soccer team. The need for more coaches was imminent, and her love for volunteering and working with youth has led her to the East Portland Community Center every Tuesday night to build new relationships with those who share the same adoration for soccer as her.

Each session of the program has a theme for the kids to embrace on and off the field. For example, a theme Herring recently worked with was “taking space.” Herring described how “every theme can be applied to real life, so taking opportunities in a game and creating space, but then also if an opportunity like an internship is given to you in real life, you have to take that opportunity in order to set yourself up for success.”

The coaches volunteering also carry blue cards, or equity cards, that are handed to students who exemplify the theme, have communicated well, or been a good teammate that session. At the end of the night, those who were awarded a blue card are applauded for their success and sometimes even given prizes. The organization hopes to teach the kids important life skills in a way that allow them to really embody the morals presented by the themes.

Because SSUSA is sponsored by the Timbers, the program has benefited tremendously from the Timbers’ generosity of gifts of athletic gear, and the youth therefore have a greater incentive to come back for future sessions. Free bus passes and new shoes have been other ways the organization has given back to the youth in need.

The specific chapter Herring is involved with has a majority of low-income youth from the outer-east area. Many of them may play for “their school teams, but this is an opportunity for them to play with people in their community.  It’s a safe space for them to have fun and be with each other,” Herring said.

By giving back, Herring has also gained in her mind. It has been an opportunity for her “to get to know people who are from different backgrounds that aren’t mine,” she explained. Especially at Cleveland, “everyone has a lot in common just in terms of social class and ethnicity and culture, so it’s hard to get more depth and more personal interactions with people who aren’t very similar to me, so I feel like through this it’ll definitely improve my coaching abilities which is good, because I really do enjoy coaching kids and coaching soccer, and I also want to make friends with these people who I usually wouldn’t get to interact with.”

Herring hopes to continue building bonds with the kids. She is committed to volunteering through the season, but she looks forward to working with the kids through her senior year and improving their street soccer experience.

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Playing for the Community