How It All Started – by Sydney Smith

In 2010, I went to the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy summer camp. They teach girls how to use teamwork and leadership skills on and off the field, how to design service projects and “Choose to Matter”, using their gifts to help those in need.  I was 12 years old and didn’t really think I could make a difference, but I had fun at the camp.

Months later, I was approached by Coach Doco who watched me struggle during practice.  He offered to show me some moves that I could be successful with.  After 45 minutes, I left and he went to coach his own team.  The next time I saw him, he asked me to show him what I remembered, and showed me even more moves.  When he noticed that I had a new ball, he told me I was very lucky.  I said, “I’m not lucky.  I scored a goal so I got a new ball.”  When he explained that the children of Liberia didn’t have enough soccer balls and that most kids kicked bags of garbage, I immediately (with tears in my eyes) held out my new ball and told him to send it to Liberia. This was the moment that changed my life!

I cleaned out my closets, and then collected gear from my friends and neighbors. By the end of the summer, I had filled a 55-gallon drum with new/used gear for him.  He wept, hugged me and told me I had a big heart.  Then I learned that Doco’s 750 Liberian Youth Soccer Association kids would share the 26 pairs of used cleats in the barrel, and I was horrified!

Each summer, I returned to the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy camp, and I learned how to make my project grow and found more ways to help me reach my goals.  I sat down and decided to make sure every child had their own pair of cleats and their own ball.

My soccer club, Campton United SC, was very helpful.  They let me hold gear drives at our indoor facility every winter.  I collected 8 55-gallon barrels full of gear each winter.  They also let me use the indoor facility to hold a party every year for 150+ friends.  Your “ticket” was a new soccer ball or soccer socks, and over the years, I raised over 400 balls and 100 pairs of socks this way, as well as $835 in silent auction donations.

The Illinois Youth Soccer Association repeatedly gave me a free booth at their annual Firefest Expo, where I collected 3 drums full of donated gear.

Next I partnered with Boombah Athletics. They allowed me to sell custom-made cleats at cost, and they donated an identical pair for free to the Liberian children. I raised 84 pairs of new cleats this way.

A “team mom” took the reigns and filed to be a licensed 501c3 Non-For-Profit and in June 2014, and One Goal Foundation was created.  Empowered with a licensed 501c3, I reached out to several schools and they happily joined in! Carthage College, University of Chicago, Aurora University and Hope College all used their programs to support One Goal Foundation, raising an additional 14 full sets of uniforms, warm ups, 141 pairs of shoes, and 155 balls. This allowed the Liberians to hold their first tournament and the kids felt proud to not only be playing soccer, but to look like soccer players too.

My mom had her college students donate new/used clothing, shoes and sports gear for extra credit. Over 4 drums of used clothing/shoes were raised. Most students admitted they were proud of helping others and wanted to continue helping, regardless of the incentive.

Geneva High School’s Boys’ Lacrosse team has adopted One Goal as their service project.  In Spring 2015, they held a gear drive and raised over 5 55-gallon barrels full of gear!  The lacrosse coach went even further and secured enough lacrosse jerseys, pads & sticks for a new sport to be played in Liberia by the children that One Goal supports. 

Returning this summer to the JFSLA camp as a Junior Counsellor, I was able to share my personal journey of public service with the newer campers.  It was fun recounting how goals were met, new goals set, and how easy it was to find people and businesses willing to help me reach those goals.  The biggest surprise was how my project had grown in a completely new direction over the last year.  With my first goal- “I want every child to have their own soccer ball and cleats”- met, I now turned my attention to their futures.

In October 2014, One Goal decided to expand its mission to help the orphaned children of Liberia not only to provide the ability to provide children with a safe and healthy way to feel the joys of youth, but to help ensure every child was educated. The correlation is easy: we leverage the children’s love of soccer to help them prioritize their education. If the teachers say that the student is participating and performing well in school, then they are allowed to play soccer that day.  If they are not attending or participating, then they are prohibited from soccer for the afternoon.

The foundation of a new school was laid and as of May 2015, the walls are 2 feet high.  This school will serve approximately 400 children who cannot afford to attend public schools- either because of a lack of school supplies, lack of proper clothing/hygiene, schools too far away to travel, or lack of parental oversight.

With support for One Goal Foundation growing, several shipping containers full of building supplies, mattresses, crutches, toys and school supplies have been sent to Liberia. We continue to solicit donations from families, schools and businesses. We continue to share the plight of the Liberian children, and receive support in both likely and unlikely sources.

What’s next?  As soon as the school is finished, the focus will turn to the need for safe housing for the hundreds of children who are still orphaned after 14 years of civil war.  With families often decimated and children left homeless, their futures are bleak. I am determined to help these children become happy, educated, successful people.