In 2007, soccer coach John Evans was approached by a one of his high school students, who had visited Haiti and been shocked to find that children there had many fewer opportunities to benefit from participation in sports than their U.S. counterparts. In fact, they didn’t even have the shoes or equipment to play soccer, let alone a field. John, a Holy Cross graduate who had dedicated his life to sports, was touched. He appealed to his fellow alumni and put together the funds to purchase and transport some equipment.
John and his wife, Elena Anastas Evans, traveled to capital city Port-au-Prince to scout out locations and make connections among the local community. They established relationships with a suburban network of professionals and community members who wanted to help, and founded HotFutbol, a nonprofit that brings organized soccer to urban areas in Haiti, while also fostering community development and sustainability. Using sports as its medium, HotFutbol provides an opportunity for play, and the chance to develop essential skills in communication, leadership, goal setting, how to get along with colleagues, discipline, civic-mindedness, and how to be a good steward of the environment.
The HotFutbol team found a beautiful open space to lease at Park Izmery—a rarity in densely populated Port-au-Prince—and made it their home base for practice and trainings, and for bringing together children of a variety of backgrounds. Their work became even more important following the devastating earthquake of 2010. Says Elena, “There was a real need for kids to have something happy and productive to do after seeing all of that disaster.”
Since then, HotFutbol has expanded to after-school sessions every weekday, plus a Saturday morning session. Approximately 200 children, ages 5 to 17, are currently served by the program; about 20% are girls (they’ve gotten to participate in Girls Soccer Day at the national stadium in Port-au-Prince).
Because one of HotFutbol’s mottoes is “If you can’t pay, you can still play,” equipment is subsidized for children from poor families; more affluent families are charged a small fee to register and for uniforms. Team members travel to other fields in Port-au-Prince and nearby towns to play games with neighboring teams.
A staff of 8 coaches, 4 groundskeepers, a gardener, and a consulting sports medicine physician is led by Program Director Ricardo Balmir, an avid soccer player who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years. He requires that all children be enrolled in and regularly attend school, and checks their report cards regularly to ensure they fulfill this condition of participation.
Ricard is also a keen local advocate, and has, among other initiatives, encouraged a local high school tournament and several adult leagues to use the park. “He’s done amazing things in Haiti,” Elena recounts. “He’s involved in the neighborhood, so he’s able to make it a community. As the park becomes more developed, there will be even more opportunity.”
For Elena, some of the best opportunity has come out of partnerships with businesses and other nonprofits. Feed My Starving Children, for example, provides dehydrated food for the players, while the apparel manufacturer Life Is Good, through their Playmakers program, has provided social training and helped build a playground, in collaboration with the International Childhood Enrichment Program. Within the past year, HotFutbol has also received a significant grant from Gatorade that has helped them fund a variety of projects, including the building of a regulation-sized basketball court, which can also accommodate volleyball and football, behind the soccer field, and the establishment of a community garden.
Elena explains, “We partner with local NGOs working in Haiti and believe through collaborative effort, the park can become self-sustaining financially, and allow for the realization of the park’s full potential as a space that brings community members together and fosters civic engagement. We are working to make the park sustainable in the future by improving the infrastructure. To this effort, we have leveled and filled the playing field, rebuilt the basketball court by partnering with Building Bridges Worldwide, built a community garden with irrigation, and rebuilt the well. Ongoing projects include lighting, Internet access, and a community playground, as well as showers, changing rooms and an computer lab.”
Despite HotFutbol’s exemplary reputation, fundraising is a continual challenge. “Because we’ve been around for 10 years and have good, solid relationships with the Haitian people, they have trust in us—and that takes a long time,” Elena says. “I feel like we have a good foothold that way, but there’s always more that needs to be done. We especially need technological assistance.”
To that end, the organization holds major fundraisers a couple times per year, and also deploys regular direct-mail and phone call campaigns. They also apply for foundation grants and donations. And they’ve just launched their first digital-fundraising projects, to help complete the basketball court.
“We need paint that can withstand 100-degree heat. We also need hoops, backboard, a scoreboard, and lights,” she explains. Anyone who donates to HotFutbol’s project will get a personalized thank-you, as well as e-mail updates with photos of the project in progress. Donors will also have their names hand-painted on the large concrete wall behind the court, or on the court-side bleachers.
Over time, the HotFutbol team hopes to give its participants the opportunity to take ownership of the park. Elena says, “The kids love the park, and they would be there all the time if they could. We want to teach them how to be sustainable, how to run this park for their community. We want it to be theirs.”
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