Ann Morrison Park, usually occupied with Frisbee golf players or joggers on a Tuesday morning, was bustling with more than 100 rambunctious refugee children for the “One World Soccer Camp”, a program that uses the sport to unite refugee communities in Boise. Many of the children, who range from 5 to 18 years old, come from different countries, speak different languages and wear different clothing. But for four days, they have one thing in common: soccer.
Boise High School senior Atticus Hoffman, son of well-known producer Michael Hoffman (The Last Station), is the face behind the successful program. Hoffman says he has always been a "soccer head" and started the program when he was just 14 years old.
“One day my dad came back from the YMCA and said, ‘You know, I saw all these refugees being shown around today’, and I got to thinking about it,” Hoffman said. “When I pitched it to the Agency for New Americans, they were really responsive and said, ‘If you can get this together, we can bring you kids.’ So I got on my bike and I rode around talking to everyone locally and getting donations.”
The four day program, which provides soccer clinics, organized games, food and transportation free of charge, depends on community support from Idaho Rush Soccer Club, Full Circle Exchange, Agency for New Americans, Boise Coop, Boise Parks and Recreation, Idaho Youth Soccer Association and Port of Subs. Idaho Rush Club provides coaches and volunteers to help teach the kids how to play.
Atticus notes that because he will be graduating from Boise High, next year will probably be his last. However, he hopes to continue to be involved in it.
“I always make really good friends at the camp,” Hoffman said. “Some come all four years, and we also always see a lot of new faces.”
Idaho Rush Soccer Club has been involved from the very beginning, providing coaches and volunteers to teach the children the sport. It was the first time sponsorship coordinator Dave Rucklos had been out to physically see the camp.
Sponsorship coordinator Dave Rucklos, who has been actively soliciting financial support for the last eighteen months, notes language barriers do not get in the way of the children’s fun, stating that soccer is a “common denominator”.
“It is a sport played worldwide. I mean, soccer is everywhere, and the World Cup really helped illustrate that,” Rucklos said. “What’s impressive to me is the kids pick English up just like that, it just seem to come so easy.”
The camp recently received a $10,000 grant from Consumer Financial Solutions by producing a 30 second YouTube video. The organization received over 120 submissions statewide, and Hoffman’s film was one of five films selected. His father, Michael Hoffman, may have had a hand in helping produce the film, which was filmed by Andy Lawless. Hoffman laughs when admitting they produced the film in 2 and a half days, saying “Usually it takes me a bit longer to make a film.”
Some of the grant money will be used to encourage the participants to continue to play soccer throughout the year, by waiving the registration fees for recreational soccer programs through the Idaho Rush Soccer Club.
Yasmin Aguilar, coordinator for community resources at the Agency for New Americans, has been responsible for reaching out to refugee groups to get them involved in the program, which includes getting liability forms signed and organizing transportation shuttles to Ann Morrison Park organized with Boise Parks and Recreation. Aguilar says the program helps refugee youth adjust to their new environment and make new friends.
“Most refugees are coming from the war zones and the only thing they remember is the fighting, which is an unhealthy battle,” Aguilar said. “To bring all these refugee kids here together to play soccer, I think that’s a healthy battle. They compete against each other, but it’s healthy.”
Idaho's refugee population grew by 20 percent between August 2008 and August 2009. Aguilar said she has seen countless friendships made at the camp, such as “a kid from Afghanistan meeting a kid from Congo, or an Iraqi meeting a kid from Bhutan.”
“We want them to learn to respect each other, understand each other and also to learn we are all different, but we are the same.”