Thursday, January 31, 2008

News from Michigan

Sara Silvennoinen founded and coaches Ann Arbor's street soccer team. Her note on her team and one player, as well as other info, is published below. We are so impressed with Sara, her team, and her organzition. Enjoy her post:

Jon Wallace:

Profile of an Washtenaw County Street Soccer Player

2007 was both a year of hardship and tragedy as well as a year of hope and new beginnings for Jon Wallace. The 46-year-old divorced, unemployed, homeless man who had struggled with homelessness and Alcohol Abuse since his divorce about 15 years ago was sleeping on the streets, drinking regularly, and doing “nothing” with his life. One autumn night, while sleeping at his campsite, another homeless man suddenly attacked Jon and slammed his head into his full backpack several times, causing multiple head wounds including a broken nose, laceration of the ear, and tore hair from his head. Jon attempted to press charges but when he went to court, he was escorted out and told by security officers that he was “drunk” and therefore could not be in the courthouse. Jon stated he had not been drinking, but was so discouraged by the experience that he never pursued the assault charge.

In August 2007, Sara Silvennoinen, LLPC/CAAC of the Washtenaw County PORT (Project Outreach Team) program, organized and initiated a local soccer team for the homeless in Washtenaw County. She decided to call the team “The SSPORT,“ for “The Street Soccer PORT” Team. The PORT program is a unique initiative funded to, as the name implies, outreach to mentally ill homeless individuals in the community, engage with them, and provide treatment, and/or connect them with other appropriate services. As an outreach program, PORT staff also regularly has contact with the homeless population at large, regardless of a mental illness diagnosis. The invitation to take part in the SSPORT Team and begin practices in August, 2007 was extended to the entire local homeless population.

Jon just happened to be at the park where the soccer practices were being held one day, and with a little encouragement from Sara, decided to give it a try. He began attending practices regularly, and soon was learning to play goalie for the team. He has been the most consistent team member and has exhibited his commitment to mastering the position of goal keeper so that he can represent SSPORT and participate in the Homeless World Cup in Washington D.C. next spring. Several PORT and local shelter staff have noticed a marked change in Jon since he began playing with SSPORT. Unsolicited remarks made by staff have been that his mood and affect have been brighter, he has been more social, he has noticeably decreased his drinking, and he has been a voluntary PR representative for the team by encouraging others to join and support SSPORT.

Additionally, he is now living in an apartment with a friend for whom he has been appointed as payee, has followed up with medical treatment as encouraged by his SSPORT coach, has become more motivated to look for employment, has voiced a desire to learn to type, and is always the jokester at practices, making his teammates and coaches laugh. Jon’s love for the game was especially visible when he and several other teammates attended a Detroit Ignition (professional indoor soccer team) game in November 2007. Tickets had been donated by community members so that SSPORT players could attend. Jon was rapt in the goalies’ every move on the field and he learned some new skills he could apply to his game during practices. He has also taken it upon himself to go the library to learn more about goaltending.

Jon’s own perception of how Street Soccer has impacted him are that it “gives me something to look forward to”, “I’m loving the hell out of playing soccer!”, and “without soccer life would be depressing.” He is a valued member of the SSPORT Team and his coaches are very proud of the progress he has made both on and off the field. We look forward to bringing him and his teammates to D.C. to meet and learn from other Street Soccer players from around the country and also to have the opportunity to put their skills to the court in a real soccer competition.

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