ESSAY: Mending families through soccer

By Tiffany Fraser and Lisa Wrightsman

We coach the Sacramento Lady Salamanders, a Street Soccer USA program that helps women break the cycle of homelessness, addiction and domestic violence.

Now entering our fourth year, we’ve seen 92 percent of our players achieve permanent housing, employment or continue their education within their first year of participation.

Our team platform creates a supportive environment and a safe place for women to take courageous and life-changing steps. And while we are ecstatic to have helped so many formerly homeless women—women who, in turn, support one another—there is one result that we never anticipated.

Most of our players have anywhere from one to five children, and some have grandchildren. Over the years, we’ve watched these young people’s lives transform as a result of their mothers’ participation with Street Soccer USA.

Early on, we used the children as opponents for our players on the field, and they played their parts well. But we soon noticed the kids were bonding with their mothers and grandmothers in the ways that teammates do. In many cases, broken relationships between parents and children mended on the soccer pitch!

These children are seeing their parents and themselves in a whole new way. There was a time when many of our kids did not view their futures through a hopeful lens. Today, they tell us about their college aspirations. We believe this is how to break negative cycles for good.

From then on, the Sacramento Lady Salamanders program sought to do much more that provide a support system for women; we want to change that trajectory for entire families.

We began this year by adding an emphasis on our program’s youth. The children and grandchildren of our players are just as affected by their homeless circumstances, and are equally in need of the benefits soccer can provide.

Our youth initiative begins this month as we bring two at-risk girls to compete at the Street Child World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Starting March 28, the 10-day tournament brings street children from five continents to play international football and call attention to global homelessness. Our piece of this mission will continue as long as there are Sacramento youth experiencing the effects of homelessness.

Game on.

Tiffany Fraser and Lisa Wrightsman are the program directors of the Sacramento Lady Salamanders.

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