Lending a Helping Hand – or Foot
NCFC soccer player embraces local refugees
Story and photos by Dave Droschak
North Carolina Football club forward Matt Fondy considers himself blessed to have been raised in an upper middle class family south of San Francisco. And his soccer journeys have included a United Soccer League MVP award – even a brief stint in Major League Soccer.
It seems as if the 28-year-old Fondy has led a charmed life. So, why is Fondy spending some valuable off-time on Sundays this fall to organize a series of clinics for young refugees, a group of somewhat lost souls who have settled in the Triangle area from countries such as Peru, The Congo, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq?
“It is 100 percent rewarding,” Fondy said. “I was raised to show how fortunate I was. I wouldn’t say it was hammered into my head, but I would say my parents and my family had empathy for others and were interested in other cultures, so growing up I wasn’t as sheltered as some people.
“I want to put my position as an athlete to good use,” he added. “Soccer and sports in general are somewhat international, so I can reach people in these communities, and I’m grateful for that.”
Fondy contacted the Raleigh branch of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants last season in an effort to launch the clinics, but the effort fizzed. Not discouraged, Fondy was able to begin a series of camps in North Raleigh for kids ages seven to 16 this summer.
He uses NCFC equipment manager Youssef Dahouz who is from Morocco and speaks four languages, to help facilitate conversation, and some of his NCFC teammates as hosts. The first clinic was held in a rain storm, and more than 20 kids showed up to kick balls and run through drills – and, as Fondy says, just smile with each other.
Scott Phillips, the local Field Office Director for the USCRI, said Fondy and his Raleigh staff have been fortunate as several companies have donated food, water, or soccer equipment for the clinics. One child of a volunteer even helped get jerseys, shorts, cleats, and gloves donated for about 50 kids.
“I’m a native North Carolinian and it really warms my soul when I see people, corporations, and organizations coming out of the woodwork to say ‘We want to make sure this is a welcoming community,’” Phillips said. “This is really a concrete example of that. The refugee kids see the media, they see what’s in the news, they hear what people are saying, and this is a good opportunity for them to know that somebody has their back.”
The USCRI helps the refugees get settled and acclimated to the area, and the kids begin taking English classes. But Fondy says a lot of time their immediate community is made up of people from their country, or other refugees.
“So the language barrier can be extremely high, and they end up just having their own lives in that community and don’t really know about North Carolina or the United States in general,” he said. “It’s important to integrate them into the community, and I think this is a good way to do it. Soccer kind of transcends all languages.
“I’ve been trying to put myself in their shoes,” Fondy added. “I am a pretty avid reader, and I started reading about these countries and kind of what they go through. Some of their plights are pretty amazing.”
The clinics are scheduled through late October. Anyone who wants to donate food and beverages, or products, can reach out to Fondy at email@example.com.