Through a new partnership with Charlotte FC, The Soccer Foundation of Charlotte supports youth both on and off the field.
by Michelle Boudin
By now, you’ve probably heard: Charlotte is home to a major league soccer team. And even before its first match, the team is making its mark helping hundreds of local kids through its work with a nonprofit that grew out of one of the area’s most popular children’s soccer programs, Soccer Shots. Founded in 2017, Soccer Foundation of Charlotte offers after-school soccer programs at low-income schools.
“The nonprofit arm of Soccer Shots was founded after the local owners had a vision of using soccer to invest in every child in Charlotte,” says Soccer FC Executive Director Katie Phillips. “Because soccer is an expensive sport, that left a lot of kids out, so we wanted to make it accessible.”
When Charlotte’s professional team was announced, the nonprofit saw an opportunity to reach even more kids. “Charlotte got a major league soccer team, and we became one of their main community partners — so we branched off of Soccer Shots so we could partner with every club in Charlotte,” explains Phillips, who has been involved with the foundation since its inception.
Soccer FC provides 24 weeks of soccer programming at 18 Charlotte schools. Twice a week, the kids play for an hour before or after school, so transportation isn’t a barrier.
Coaching and soccer equipment aren’t the only things Soccer FC provides. “Serving in these communities, we could see the love for the game of soccer, but we were also seeing the need for literacy education,” Phillips says. Now, in addition to the jersey and the ball, each student gets 24 books
“The coaches do a read-aloud at the end of each practice. We thought it would be important for the coach to have a book in their hand, [for the children] to see someone they admire and respect reading to them, Phillips says.
“I love that they’ve incorporated books into the program,” says Brooke Eastburn, school counselor at Winterfield Elementary in east Charlotte. Each week, 25 kids hit the field as part of Soccer FC’s program there. “A lot of kids compartmentalize their interests, but Soccer FC combines them. By adding literacy into the soccer program, Soccer FC shows kids that attributes like positive attitude, teamwork and tenacity are transferable skills. And to see their faces when they get their new books is the best.” For several of the kids, soccer is the only organized after-school activity in which they participate, she says.
“It’s more than soccer — they are helping our kids feel a broadened sense of community at Winterfield, and it’s ideal for our new students,” Eastburn says. “We have students joining us all the time, frequently from other countries, often refugees. Soccer FC helps welcome newcomers into our new school and neighborhood.”
This year, Soccer FC will serve 450 kids — more than double its reach before teaming with Charlotte FC — and give away 10,000 books. Phillips expects the partnership to expand once the season is in full swing, with appearances by the professional players, events and more.
“Our partnership with Charlotte FC has blown up our program and allowed us to serve double and triple what we we’re serving before,” Phillips says. “It’s really exciting.” SP