By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Former Willamette University men's soccer midfielder Adam Lewis ('15) gained a lot of confidence, support and togetherness from his teammates as a youth soccer player and while competing for the Bearcats from 2012 through 2014. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in politics in the spring of 2015, and then took a full-time job with a technology company. His desire to help others get as much out of playing soccer as he did led Lewis to form Street Soccer Portland. The organization, part of Street Soccer USA, helps Portland's homeless, refugee and at-risk youth communities play soccer and get connected with social services throughout the city.
"In late 2016, I quit my job to launch Street Soccer Portland as a volunteer," Lewis recalled. "I eagerly took on the task of securing financial backing and expanding the program to Portland's diverse communities."
Street Soccer Portland now brings soccer and interactions with community service organizations to over 100 people. There are four different programming sites. According to Lewis, players "discover their strengths, take positive steps forward in their lives ... ultimately leading to a pathway toward social mobility."
It has been a rewarding experience for Lewis.
"I'm extremely proud to launch Street Soccer Portland with the help of our growing local board of directors," Lewis said. The board includes another former Willamette soccer player, Chris Hall, who graduated from Willamette in 1983.
The relatively new program in Portland is part of Street Soccer USA, which was founded in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2008 by brothers Lawrence and Rob Cann. They formed the organization to use sports to create a support structure and be the teaching and trust-building tool to empower youth and adults. Today, their are Street Soccer programs in 14 cities, including huge markets such as New York and Philadelphia on the East Coast and San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and Portland on the West Coast. The game is played using a 4-versus-4 format on a 55-foot by 80-foot court.
Lewis' involvement with Street Soccer USA and the creation of Street Soccer Portland might not have happened if he hadn't experienced so much fun, teamwork and excitement during is days as a soccer player.
"When I was a youth soccer player in Oregon, I had the incredible privilege of playing for teams all over the state," Lewis said. "Each new team brought a diverse new community and new teammates. Regardless of the team and city, there was ... a deep commitment to each other and a love for the game. Each of us found solace, community and comfort in both the joy of competition and a bond between teammates."
Lewis, from Corvallis, Oregon, attended Crescant Valley High School before attending Pomona-Pitzer in California as a college freshman. He transferred to Willamette in the fall of 2012 and played his final three seasons of college soccer with the Bearcats.
"The feeling of togetherness followed me to the Willamette soccer team," Lewis added. "I realized that nearly every major period of growth, development and self-actualization could be traced back to an experience I had on the field or with my teammates. Soccer undoubtedly taught me more about myself off the field than anything else. I recognized all that I owed to this game and the incredible opportunities it provided me ... forging friendships, building confidence ... and I wanted to share that with others."
Steeet Soccer Portland is ready to begin its 2018 campaign to raise funds for the program and to celebrate how much it has already grown. The Street Soccer Portland 2018 Kickoff is set for Thursday, Jan. 18 at Toffee Club in Portland. The theme of the this year's campaign is "Play for Portland." The event on Thursday will be held from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m.
According to Lewis, program goals for the "Play for Portland" campaign are "launching a women's initiative for individuals who have experienced homelessness and/or trauma, expanding the team of homeless young adults, and replicating the success of the youth program in the David Douglas neighborhood into other part of East Portland."
The overall process of building a program begins with gaining an understanding of each community.
"We first and foremost listen to community leaders and organizations that reflect the needs of the area. All our programs are built on the foundation of soccer, but are quite unique to each specific neighborhood. We establish formal and informal partnerships with different social service and community organizations. They refer participants to us, and we refer players back to those agencies based on a specific need. It's also about providing a pathway toward educational and employment opportunities."
Ultimately, Lewis is proud to see the changes in confidence, happiness and well-being that players gain through Street Soccer Portland. He's glad that his decision to commit to overseeing the program has worked out.
"Seeing someone who has come through the program, secured a job, a house, or reconnected with family, etc., is really hard to put into works," Lewis said. "For me, to see someone use soccer -- this game that I love -- to change his or her life means everything."
Lewis played in 51 games with 48 starts during his three seasons with the Bearcats. A defensive midfielder, he also contributed on offense with two goals and four assists. He took a total of 26 shots, including nine shots on goal. The Bearcats experienced success during his three seasons, going 33-18-7 overall, including 13-5-2 during his senior season, when Willamette finished just one point out of first place in the Northwest Conference.
Street Soccer USA has a partnership with HELP USA, a national social service provider. More locally, Street Soccer Portland has worked with Outside In, a social service agency for homeless youth. The national organization has ESPN, several Major League Soccer teams and the Uniqlo unform company as corporate partners. The 15,000th player enrolled in Street Soccer USA in 2017 and the organization projects that the 50,000th player will join up in 2019.