By Ryan Bailey

The club’s Homestay Program matches talented prospects with local families, which strengthens the Academy and its bonds within the community

CHARLOTTE—Eddie and Sharon Livingston can be found on the sidelines at most Charlotte FC U14 Academy games. Not only are they cheering on their son Emmanual, but also his teammate Derek Powell, who has become a part of the Livingston household through the Homestay Program.

“I signed up for the program to help a family, and to help someone achieve their dreams,” says Livingston, while watching a training session at Manchester Meadows, Rock Hill, S.C.

“We met Derek on the soccer field when he arrived as a trialist. I talked to his parents and learned they were in the process of looking for a host family. Rather than have him miss this incredible opportunity, I said I’d be more than happy to apply and let him come stay with us.”

Derek is one of six players across Charlotte FC’s U14 and U17 squads who are living with host families for the 2020-21 season.

“It’s been exciting and really fun to live with another family,” Says Derek. “The Livingstons have done a lot for me and have made me feel welcome from the moment I walked in. The best thing is Emmanuel’s mom’s cooking: she cooks a lot of chicken and rice and she bakes cakes, too!”

Livingston notes that Derek’s presence in the home has helped curb Emmanuel’s picky eating habits (“Clearing the plate is now a competition!” he jokes) and that they get along like brothers.

“At game time, I feel like I have two kids on the field,” adds Livingston. “My wife and I are on the sidelines cheering for both of them.”

The Homestay Program offers young players from outside the Charlotte metro area a unique opportunity to train and play with the Academy.

“Our mandate and mission is to get the very best players from our homegrown territory of North and South Carolina, as well as from the open territories around the USA,” says Academy Manager Dan Lock. “The Homestay Program allows us to house these players year-round and develop them within our Academy environment.”

Robert Kelly, whose son Lucas moved from his home in Wake Forest to join the U17 squad, found the Homestay Program to be a bittersweet experience at first. “It was very difficult to let him go, maybe more so for his mom,” says Kelly. “But it got easier as the process went on and we got more involved in the program and we met the family.”

Kelly is impressed not only by his son’s development within the Academy, but also his maturity and growth away from the field.

“Now, Lucas has to do his own laundry and cooks his own breakfast—and he did neither at home. He effectively became a college freshman at 15 years old when he left and has grown so much,” says Kelly. “Lucas loves his host family—Remy the family dog is his favorite—and his host mom treats him like he’s her own.”

For Lucas, whose host family is based in Fort Mill, S.C., the decision to move to Charlotte to pursue top-level youth soccer has been fully justified.

“It was not the easy choice, but I don’t regret it at all,” says Lucas. “It was strange at first, but my host family has made me feel so welcome; they act like I’m their child. I have a designated chair at the dinner table, and they always invite my family over. It’s been really great.”

“My favorite thing about living here, besides soccer, is living near the city,” adds Lucas. “We go to watch Panthers games, we go and eat Uptown a lot. It’s so fun.”

Lucas also notes that his academic studies have been going well, thanks to the support of Academy Education and Welfare Coordinator Sara Smith.

“School is going great,” says Lucas. “I meet with Ms. Sara once a week and she helps me with any upcoming tests upcoming, any assignments I need help with, and schoolwork in general.”

U17 forward Ervin Cruz, from Knightdale, N.C., is also pleased with his decision to participate in the program.

“It was a pretty big move to come here, but I want the best possible competition and I’m really glad to be here,” says Ervin, who is described by host parent Bill Hawks as a “very motivated, polite, and diligent young man.”

“My host family made me feel welcome and a part of them since day one,” adds Ervin. “It’s like we’ve known each other for years.”

Andy Martin, father of U17 midfielder Xander, is highly complimentary of host parents Doug and Tiffany Richter, and the support of the community around the Academy.

“Xander is enjoying every minute with his host family; they are kind and helpful,” says Martin. “We appreciate them greatly as they have made a huge sacrifice dealing with the schedule and carpools, but more than that, they have supported our values and helped him grow.

“It was not an easy decision and there are days we miss him, but we know in our hearts that he is well cared for by the host family, the coaches, the Education and Welfare Coordinator, the local families and his teammates.

“Another factor that settled our minds was that Dan and [Technical Director] Marc Nicholls’ documented success in Seattle,” adds Martin. “Therefore, we had a high level of trust in Charlotte FC.

“We are grateful for the opportunity and appreciate all of the growth seen in the program, but more importantly, in our child.”