By Ryan Bailey
From food drives to puppy fostering, the club’s young players have shown initiative and empathy in their efforts to make a difference in the community
CHARLOTTE—In its inaugural season, Charlotte FC’s Academy program has made plenty of impact on the field. The fledgling players, however, have also been making a significant difference away from the field, with an array of community efforts.
In accordance with Charlotte FC’s values, the Academy program aims to combine soccer development with educational enrichment and community projects. As such, every Academy player is required to spend at least 20 hours per season on a community project of their choosing.
With projects varying between book drives, community clean-ups and clothing collections, Charlotte’s young players have been making a positive impact in the community between their school and soccer commitments.
“It has been exciting to watch our Academy students get involved with and serve their community,” says Academy Education and Welfare Coordinator Sara Smith. “Our players are learning the value of helping their communities firsthand, and we strongly believe that these experiences will make a difference in their lives.
“One of Charlotte FC’s core values is to behave as a collective. We want our students to show this trait as a teammate, and as an active member of their respective communities.”
Smith encourages each player to choose a project that he feels passionate about, which led U15 midfielder Landon Lynch to volunteer with the Henry Kalungi Foundation—a charity that helps underprivileged communities in Uganda—and a local puppy fostering program.
Lynch’s teammate Simon Tonidandel, meanwhile, showed impressive initiative in setting up his own book drive. In less than three weeks, Tonidandel managed to collect nearly 400 books for the Soccer Foundation of Charlotte (Soccer F.C.), a non-profit partner of Charlotte FC that uses soccer as a platform to promote literacy at local Title 1 elementary schools.
“We had a book bin set up so teammates could drop them off easily, and had several donations from the U17 team and our Discovery families,” said Tonidandel. “We also sent a flyer to opposing teams and parents at home games asking for their help—like a canned food drive but with books.”
U17 midfielder Edric Zhang logged his community service hours with a local food distribution center. “I was there with a couple other volunteers from the local college,” said Zhang. “We organized donations, bagged them and prepared them for pickup.
“I learned that not all people have the same amount of resources and food, and it’s important to help those who are struggling.”
Cristian Chamorro sought donations of dog-care items for the Humane Society, and took part in a community clean-up project. U14 midfielder James Nyandjo, meanwhile, collected canned goods for the Second Harvest Food Bank, while his teammate Andre Sama collected hygiene items for Project Downtown CLT.
Midfielder Sam Sery packed hygiene bags including toothbrushes and hand sanitizer for the homeless and people in need. “I went with my church to downtown Gastonia and we walked around passing out the bags,” says Sery. “We also helped with a meal for the homeless at the Salvation Army.
“I learned that a good deed can change someone’s day. Something as simple as asking their prayer intentions, or giving a hygiene bag can really brighten up someone’s day.”
U14 goalkeeper Ethan Andrews conducted a food drive with Bright Blessings, an organization that serves children staying at Charlotte’s Salvation Army Center. “I collected non-perishable items through Charlotte FC, as well as my own school and community,” says Andrews. “I was able to donate 625 assembled snack bags which went to kids from 5-6 different schools.”
“I was so glad to be able to affect so many kids’ lives by the work I put in. I didn’t realize how much you can do to help the community by showing effort and working hard to create a community service project.”
Many of Charlotte FC’s players have gone above and beyond for their community projects. Midfielder Brayden Keenan, for example, has logged more than twice his required hours delivering Meals on Wheels for seniors. His teammate Bryce Swinehart worked on a number of projects, including a drive that delivered new socks to a homeless shelter. And U14 player Pete Fotinos volunteered his time with Samaritans Feet, an organization that provides shoes for children globally around the world.
“We have been incredibly impressed with the lengths our boys have gone to with their community service projects,” says Academy Manager Dan Lock. “In addition to cultivating elite soccer talent, we aim to produce well-rounded individuals, who understand the value of making a positive impact in the community. I look forward to seeing the projects the players will select next season!”