Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Street Soccer hits Atlanta

"Hey Chookie, wanna go to Atlanta?"
"Whaaaa, no doubt,when do we leave.?"
"Tommorow, Ill pick you up at 8:30."
Chookie Allen had just finished a 45 day treatment program and I wanted him to take his first free day to go to Atlanta. What a good guy I am. Actually I wanted to take him to Atlanta to help me spread the workd to the Task Force for the Homeless about Homeless World Cup-USA.
So, on Wednesday, June 28, Ray Isaac, Chookie Allen, and I traveled to Atlanta in hopes to see the city, have some laughs and talk to some fellow street dwellers about playing soccer. We were excited for a breath of fresh away from Charlotte and to see what the big city further south had to offer. The trip started out behind schedule because Ray was up until five o'clock moving apartments becuase his old one was deemed unlivable due to termites and infestation. After a couple hours of sleep he got re-energized, but on his way to the Urban Ministry Center he ran out of gas. Knowing the impact Ray can have when speaking to a crowd we knew we could not leave him behind, so we had to make a move and rescue him if we were going to make it to our appointment in Atlanta on time. After locating him and returning his car to his new place and listening to a litte bit of complaning we finnally hit the road. Chookie spent most of the trip in the back seat enjoying himself, as you can see,
while Ray and I spend the majority of the trip philosophizing about God and life. It felt like a classic road trip. The Task Force for the Homeless is an amazing facility which hosts an array of different services to the men and women on the streets of Atlanta. Inside their 95,000 sq. foot building the Task Force offers emergency services to over46,000 people annually. There is an overflow shelter that hosts as many as 600 men nightly as well as a transitional housing section for up to 28 men. In addition to these services the Task Force is in the process of creating a community garden on the roof of the facilty and they already have in place an art studio and gallery. They are in the process of transforming the area to make room for their new Cafe, that will teach culinary arts and invite anyone and everyone into purchase coffee and pastries and the crafts produced by the artists. The Task Force is truly seeing out their vision of creating a "community where homeless, formerly homeless, and never-been-homeless people can live, work, eat, get to know each other, find resources to help eac hother, and discover what makes our (their) hearts sing."
It is not shocking that after touring the facility and meeting the folks that live and work at the Task Force that we were going to be accepted warmly.
Eric Heflin, the drug treatment counselor there, after hearing our words and passion about our soccer team and our excitment about Homeless World Cup -USA immediatley was intrigued by the idea. We were escorted to the basement of the facilty to make our announcement to the dinner crowd of about 200. We were all a llitte nervous about the reception of the crowd at our request for them to join into our love for our soccer team, but Eric, only knowing about the tournament and street soccer in general for about ten minutes stepped up and delivered a passionate speech to the clients of the Task Force that left little for us to cover.
Communities like ours at the Urban Ministry Center and ones like the Task Force understand that creating relationships and building communites are essential to our well-being, and so, Eric instictively knew that bringing a soccer team from Atlanta to the tournament fit into the mission of the Task Force. After I reiterated Erics words and Ray told everyone of traveling to Scotland with a quarter in his pocket and Chookie expressed his first hand appreciation for his soccer teammates back in Charlotte, we waited for guys to sign up. It was one, the slowly another, and other, and then the gates opened and Chookie had to keep asking me for more handouts until we ran out. We were hearing stories about old high school goalies and another about a man who used to play back when he was in the military. Guys were posing for pictures and the idea of Charlotte in August was set.
When we left we got one final word that solidified that my feelings all day were correct as Eric shook my hand andlooked me in the eye and said "we will definatley see you in Charlotte, thank you."
Members of Street Soccer 945 have spoken in front of many crowds and we have continued to try to make people feel what we feel about our soccer team. On Wednesday it was a long day. Ray was fading from lack of sleep and peace of mind and Chookie was fresh off 45 days of drug treatment and looking for relaxation. We wanted to go to Atlanta though, so we got in the car and went. Both guys fighting their own battles to keep their heads above water went to Atlanta to tell other guys fighting the same stuggles to play soccer. Nothing else, just to play soccer. Sounds a little crazy when you think about it. But the soccer team is what we have and it is what we hold onto. We were excited to see a new place or for Chookie and Ray revisit and old pace and we love any chance we can get to tell our stories because it makes us remember the hard times and the good and funny ones that we all shared together. Sometimes people think we are crazy and sometimes, like this time, people understand us and can't get enough of us.
Seeing others that buy into community and helping each other grow it makes our drive even greater to push and keep showing everyone what we can achieve. We are not going to stop playing because we are going to meet more people like those at the Task Force and eventually our crowds will get larger and our communities stronger and we will all enjoy more moments like Chookie is having in the picture at the top.

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