DC United: A Successful Season On and Off the Field

USC group photo from USC training at J.O. Wilson Elementary school. Photo: Courtesy of DC United

DC United's season may be over, but the excitement of this year's success that took them to the Eastern Conference Finals still resounds throughout the DC area.  But what many fans don't realize is that it's not just their performance on the field that has made this a winning season. The organization's contributions off the pitch and within the community substantiate them as genuine leaders, both in the league and the city.

These contributions are an outcome of United for D.C., a 501c3 foundation started in 2002 with a mission to "champion educational, health, and recreational programs and events that serve disadvantaged youth of greater Washington, DC."  Senior Vice President of Marketing Communications and United for D.C. Board Member Doug Hicks explained that the establishment of the foundation was a response to requests from parents in Ward 8. They wanted their children, many of them latchkey kids, to be involved in after school activities and noted the lack of opportunities in the neighborhood at that time for their kids to play soccer.

Determined to fill that void, the Foundation created the United Soccer Club, its first and now biggest initiative. Currently serving 600 kids at 14 locations around the city three times a week, the program introduces youth in underprivileged communities to the sport of soccer.  But it's not just about mastering the footwork and scoring goals.  Along with the skills to play, kids also learn about teamwork, responsibility, and other character-building essentials.  And the program comes with great rewards.  In mid-November, United Soccer Club participants got to showcase their skills in front of their family and several D.C. United players in a tournament on the RFK Stadium Training Field. Along with the chance to play on the DC United's turf, the "Fall Fest" featured team standouts Perry Kitchen and Ethan White, access to player autographs, D.C. United mascot Talon, carnival games, music, and other treats to celebrate the end of the 12-week session.

But soccer isn't the only way that United for D.C. serves local kids. With the formation of the Foundation, DC United developed other programs that support the community beyond the sport. Among them is United Reads, which promotes child literacy through partnerships with neighboring elementary schools and local health care centers. DC United players, coaches, staff, and volunteers regularly take part in assemblies, activities, and in-class visits at six elementary schools in Washington, DC, including Payne Elementary located here on Capitol Hill. Emphasizing the importance of reading and staying healthy, United Reads donates over 10,000 books that benefit more than 1,500 students during the school year.

The largest programs might focus on kids, but DC United also serves other members of the community through United Builds. Partnering with a variety of non-profits, this initiative helps feed the homeless, provide winter coats, and fulfill other needs of those who require assistance.

And then there is the program that simply offers disadvantaged youth and families a good time. Kicks for Kids provides a game-day experience that includes tickets in a lower-level section of the stadium, food and drink vouchers, DC United swag to take home, even funding for transportation to get to and from the game.  Over 7,000 fans get to enjoy this special experience that is funded by donations from local companies, private foundations, organizations, and individuals.

The donations are a result of fundraising efforts by United for D.C. In fact, they raise all of the money that supports their programs on their own. And they exceed all of the other teams in Major League Soccer in their community offerings. "The DC United is the only team in the market that provides all of the resources, financial and others, to run programming like this," says Hicks.

When Hicks talks about other resources, he includes the DC United team members. Players are highly involved in the United for D.C. programs, helping with everything from instructing kids in soccer to reading with students in classrooms to helping out with coat drives and other fundraisers that keep the programs running. And for the kids, getting to see and interact with their local sports heroes, builds excitement and encourages them to establish and strive for goals -- on the field, at school, and in life.

The DC United may not have advanced beyond the Eastern Conference Finals, but Hicks summed up the season best a couple of days before that last match. "Whether or not we win on Sunday, it's been a successful year…on the field and off."

To learn more about United for D.C. and their programs or to make a donation, visit www.dcunited.com/community.

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