ANN ARBOR, MI – The premise behind Community Kicks was simple – provide soccer skills, life skills, and nutritional skills to Michigan youth. And for the past two years, the amount of children attending these clinics throughout the state grew from 200 to 500. Another successful year was in the works.
And then, a global pandemic hit. Clinics canceled. Momentum lost. Plans dashed.
But then, they decided to do what millions of Americans have needed to do these past few months.
Make it work from home.
In the face of adversity, Community Kicks shifted from in-person clinics to online-only. The brainchild of former United States Women’s National Team player Lindsay Tarpley, United Dairy Industry of Michigan, and AFC Ann Arbor, the program now launched a weekly soccer skills video. The link to these videos is included on sack lunches being distributed throughout Washtenaw County, Metro Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, and Lansing.
More than 30,000 lunch bags will be provided through the program this summer, despite the challenges that COVID-19 brings. The meals are completely free for participants, in part due to a $10,000 donation from two former Ann Arbor residents (and Main Street Hooligans members).
Helping with these efforts are 12 community coaches – six men and six women – all with ties to Michigan. Five of these coaches tout ties to United Women’s Soccer, mostly through the parent club – Mami Yamaguchi, Tara Arlin, Emily Eitzman, and Andrea Garcia all played for AFC Ann Arbor last season. Meanwhile, the reigning NWSL Rookie of the Year, Bethany Balcer, has strong UWS ties as well, leading Grand Rapids FC to a UWS National Championship in 2017.
The coaches are primarily responsible for implementing the interactive curriculum on the weekly videos. The curriculum builds on top of itself from week to week, and has been adapted to make sure kids can practice the drills at home with a ball, cones, a wall, or a partner.
While it may not be the summer those involved with Community Kicks anticipated, they’ve learned to adapt in the same way many of us have. By making the entire program work from home.
“Community Kicks has been an important part of our work in the community because this program helps feed kids in need around the state,” said AFCAA chair Bilal Saeed. “Being able to introduce basic soccer, nutrition and life skills to them is just an added bonus to providing them with a much needed meal. We’re lucky to have the support of Lindsay Tarpley and Michigan Dairy Farmer’s so that we can reach more kids and make a bigger impact across Michigan.”