Thursday, July 10, 2014

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Homeless Athletes Play For More Than Just The Win

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TWC News: Homeless Athletes Play For More Than Just The Win
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Before the National Homeless Soccer Team heads to the Homeless World Cup in Milan, the team is training on the Lower East Side.

The organization uses soccer to help the homeless rebuild their lives. It also helps connect them to jobs, housing, education and family.

Organizers say 75 percent of its members get an education or find a job.

"Most Americans value sports in their lives and the values they teach," said Street Soccer USA Founder Lawrence Cann. "So, it's not rocket science. It's very simple."

The co-ed team is made up of eight players, two of whom are from the city.

Team member Ebony Wright says she has spent the past two years sleeping outside or in an abandoned building. She was recruited to play for the team while eating at a soup kitchen, but she had never kicked a soccer ball before joining the team.

"There are no words," she said. "I just love this program so much. It is helping me out a lot."

She says she joined the team to get fit, and is now not only in better shape physically, but also financially. Players benefit from the partnerships the program has established with many social service agencies. That's how Wright was able to find a job several months ago.

"My short term goal is mainly find an apartment because I'm tired of sleeping outside and worrying about where to put my stuff, people running up on me, and trying to do something to me in the middle of the night," she said.

Nearly 500 homeless players from around the world are expected at the tournament, which kicks off Sunday.

For Wright and most of her teammates, this will be their first time on a plane and out of the country.

"I'm so ready to get there because I want some food," Wright said. "I want some food from there."

"I always underestimate the value of getting out and traveling," said Cann. "But it's really about raising the expectations of themselves and getting a different view of what life is and what is possible."

For details, go to HomelessWorldCup.org. And for more information on the organization itself, visit StreetSoccerUSA.org.

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