The soccer world and millions of fans celebrated worldwide this summer, as the U.S. women’s soccer team clenched their fourth World Cup and Mexico’s national men’s team took the Gold Cup at the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, or ConCacaf. While fans continue to rally around upcoming Major League Soccer games and the International Champions Cup, some local recreational teams have gained momentum for their own upcoming season.
La Unión F.C., a New York-based recreational youth soccer league, will return to the field for its 3rd season this winter. The team, whose name means “the union” and was chosen by its players, is part of the Unaccompanied Minors Program in the Immigration and Refugee Services department of New York’s Catholic Charities Community Services, or CCCS. The team’s mission is to nurture unaccompanied minors into becoming community leaders through teamwork and achievement in soccer. The team of 140 players meet weekly and play at the local Catholic school. Players are divided into their designated age groups and include co-ed players who are both recent immigrants and long-time residents.
Elvis Garcia, a former CCCS employee who arrived in the United States as an unaccompanied minor himself, created the team. Garcia felt soccer would inspire others and serve an integral role in integrating the community, as it did for him. Unaccompanied minors travel to the United States for many reasons, sometimes to escape violence from their home countries or to reunite with their families. The team — a great success in the community — has provided a sense of belonging for newcomers. Friendships have been born among youth who come from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Team members of La Unión F.C. have sometimes attended professional games together and once had the opportunity to play with professional players of the NY Futbol Club. The team also makes occasional day trips to visit youth currently detained in shelters, and some players have gone on to receive college scholarships.
“It’s not just about playing soccer, these youth also develop their skills in teamwork, leadership and character development,” said Anthony Enriquez, director of the unaccompanied minors program. Enriquez and his team are planning their next moves to bring additional resources to the team and the community. In addition to increasing enrollment, they would like to provide academic support to the players and provide legal screenings and other community legal services during soccer events. Lastly, the program hopes to launch soccer programs inside federal shelters for unaccompanied minors.
This is not the only instance where sports have created an opportunity for inclusivity. Joe Maddon, the Chicago Cubs manager, launched the Hazleton Integration Project in 2012. This project has worked to bring disadvantaged youth together to participate in sports and other recreational activities as a way to foster peer learning and the true appreciation of cultural similarities and differences.
CLINIC applauds the Immigration and Refugee Services department of Catholic Charities Community Services and La Unión F.C. for creating a safe space for youth while promoting inclusivity. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us how your community is promoting integration!