It’s a straight shot for members of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) soccer teams to score a goal for families battling homelessness. Team members from 11 Northeastern colleges and universities are participating in “Stay Home, Play Together,” a fundraiser to benefit Family Promise, the leading national nonprofit addressing the crisis of family homelessness, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With everything shut down right now and everyone stuck at home, people are dying for sports to play or watch,” says Brett Rojas, a senior on the men’s soccer team at Tufts University and one of the campaign’s creators. “A bunch of my friends play FIFA on Xbox.* In the past, we’ve had competitions with entry fees and prize money. This time we thought we should do it for a meaningful cause.”
EA, the company behind many of today’s most popular video games, inspired the NESCAC campaign with its “Stay Home, Play Together” initiative to support coronavirus relief efforts and enable players to take part in livestream video games. Rojas and campaign co-creator Hannah Isenhart decided to host a fundraiser on a more local level.
“We wanted the tournament to benefit families impacted by COVID-19, specifically low-income families,” Isenhart explains. “We thought it’d be great to get the NESCAC teams together.”
Isenhart, a junior on the Tufts women’s soccer team, researched charities working with those directly affected by the health crisis. When she found Family Promise she knew it was a cause they could get behind.
Family Promise serves families across the country who are battling homelessness by keeping them together, helping them find stable housing, and providing them with the skills and tools to achieve lasting independence. Due to the COVID-19 emergency, low-income families need support now more than ever, as they’re some of the hardest hit by the crisis through the loss of wages, childcare, housing, and more.
Rojas and Isenhart began reaching out to the schools in their athletic conference about an Xbox contest to benefit Family Promise. Each school’s soccer team selected three players to compete in the tournament, which runs from May 1 -17. The pair established guidelines and offered incentives to make fundraising competitive, and within the first week of the campaign the group had already raised nearly $10,000.
Connecticut College sophomore and soccer player Augie Djerdjaj is one of the students participating in the campaign and says he’s happy to be doing some good while the world is quarantined at home.
“Now that we’re all home unexpectedly it’s great to still have this NESCAC connection,” he says. “It’s a fun way to stay competitive within the conference while getting everyone together to support a good cause.”
Djerdjaj attributes his team’s goodwill in part to its coach, Reuben Burk, who is dedicated to being active in the community. Coach Burk is pleased to know his belief in giving back resonates with his team.
“An important part of college sports is to help athletes become well-rounded people who can best serve their communities,” he says.
This intention isn’t lost on any of the players.
“Being on a team has taught me the importance of working together to accomplish goals,” says Hamilton College senior Jeff Plump, who has played on his school’s soccer team for four years. “I know how fortunate I am to not worry about food insecurity or a place to live. Being able to give back is even more critical at this time because of the pandemic and additional hardships that have ensued.”
Nick Boardman, a sophomore at Williams College, admits he was aware homelessness was a problem in this country but didn’t realize the magnitude of it. Like many, he was surprised to learn some of the shocking statistics about family homelessness in the U.S., including the fact that one in 16 children experiences homelessness by the time they reach first grade.
“I think I’ll look back on this period of time many years down the road and be really glad that I got involved in this event,” he says.
Kyle Dezotell, coach of the Tufts men’s soccer team, is pleased to see players taking the lead for a worthwhile cause.
“I’m very proud of Brett and Hannah, our program, and all of the NESCAC programs for the incredible initiative that was shown creating this fundraiser,” he says. “This league is comprised of incredible student-athletes and alumni who are capable of doing amazing things for the greater good.”
Boardman sums up the campaign and his fellow athletes’ philosophy, “It’s fun to play video games against each other, but what will be most important is that we were part of an event that was able to help people out when we had the ability to do so. I’d urge anyone who can do something to help others to do it.”
The 11 schools participating in the campaign include: Amherst College, Bates College, Bowdoin College, Colby College, Connecticut College, Hamilton College, Middlebury College, Trinity College, Tufts University, Wesleyan University, and Williams College.
Meet the Players
* The Xbox video game console operates over the internet enabling players in multiple locations to play the same game. One of the most popular games is the FIFA series, featuring soccer games with professional football teams in the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the governing body of world soccer.