Every soccer team worldwide needs goals.
The most obvious kind, the ones that find the back of the net, are the most literal discerning factors between winning and losing.
Then there’s the other kind – benchmarks a club hopes to set, whether it be a win total, a postseason berth or a championship.
For the 23 squads that make up the Durango Youth Soccer Association, the term has a third important meaning – one of service for one’s fellow man and the betterment of a community.
Before the new season began for DYSA, Kate Stahlin, the director of coaching for the group, along with other key club personnel and sponsor Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, founded the GOAL – short for Go Out And Lead – program.
In essence, each of the 23 teams – 20 in the fall and the three high school-age boys teams in the spring – is responsible for one service project and chipping in with the DYSA-wide efforts such as the TOPSoccer events, which is a day for the players to spend with youths and adults with disabilities, leading them in soccer-related activities.
It was something Stahlin had wanted to do since her days as a graduate assistant coach at Regis University from 2002 to 2005
Regis, a Jesuit institution, requires its athletes to complete eight hours of community service each year. When Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory suggested community service as part of the sponsorship agreement, Stahlin finally had her chance to get GOAL up and running.
“Me, Anne Barney and Kieran Hall met to go over and draft an agreement of sponsorship,” Stahlin said. “They didn’t just want to give money, they wanted teams to be doing community service projects. It was great because we’d been wanting to do it on the club level anyway. Anne came up with the name GOAL, and it’s kind of been growing upon itself ever since.”
And GOAL has been off and running from the get-go, with teams volunteering in all sorts of places and doing any number of activities. While these activities are mandatory for all DYSA participants, Stahlin said the kids are willing, and some even express interest in potentially volunteering outside of the mandated program.
“The younger kids get there knowing not really what to expect. I don’t know if they get the big picture until after they get there and start the project. Then it hits them,” Stahlin said.
“With our older kids, first and foremost, they understand why they’re doing a service project and actually get a lot of value out of it, and all of them are very willing.”
Meghan O’Brien, a 17-year-old member of the under-18 girls team that recently did its project at the La Plata County Humane Society Animal Shelter, said she and a few teammates were interested in giving volunteer work another shot on their own.
“We actually thought, me and a couple teammates after, we talked about going back and doing it,” O’Brien said.
Aside from work at the animal shelter, individual squads have participated in activities such as cleaning up Chapman Hill (U12 boys), cooking meals for the less fortunate (U10 girls and U12 boys), cleaning up U.S. Highway 550 (U13 girls), cleaning up the Animas River Trail (U11 boys) and acquiring donations for the Safehouse and Boys and Girls Club (U10 boys and U11 girls), among a multitude of others.
Marjorie Brinton, the program coordinator for the Home Chore Program for La Plata County Senior Services, helped set up the U13 and U11 boys teams’ efforts to rake and bag leaves for the elderly earlier this month. Brinton said the seniors who benefited from the volunteerism were elated for the help, with some even rewarding the kids’ efforts with gifts of the tasty variety.
“In fact, the coaches called me and said one of the seniors went out and got them all a treat from Dairy Queen,” Brinton said.
While volunteers typically handle the raking duties, Brinton said that having the squads volunteer alongside the regulars helps senior services and the seniors themselves financially.
“We’re certainly extra appreciative in this tight economy,” she said. “It helps to have volunteers and not have to pay for something like that.”
Club-wide, aside from TOPSoccer, DYSA has put on a food drive at the Copa del Sol 4-on-4 tournament in October, organized an old uniform drive to benefit teams in Honduras and started plastic recycling programs at the annual Shootout tournament and Escalante Middle School.
O’Brien said that hopefully as time goes on, more people will come to DYSA with more ideas for different volunteer projects, and she hopes the numbers at the TOPSoccer events, which she described as an eye-opening experience, will grow with knowledge of the GOAL program.
“I think that if we really stick with it, it’s going to become a really fun program with a lot more people involved,” the Durango High School junior said.
And as long as there’s still plenty to do, Stahlin said GOAL is happy to help.
“Those places always need support, so I don’t think they’ll mind if we come back year after year,” she said. “If we’re being creative, on the club level we can do other things, as well.”