Courtesy of Independent Health Foundation
Glorie Ndagano started playing soccer with his brothers at age 5 in Kigali, Rwanda. The youngest, his position was goalkeeper – an undesirable spot for most playground games.
When his family left Rwanda for Buffalo in 2010 with refugee status, Ndagano entered fifth grade at P.S. 6, Buffalo Elementary School of Technology. With a large population of immigrant students who also loved soccer, Ndagano continued to enjoy the sport with his new friends. Two years later, after learning that a soccer program was coming to his school that would be free of charge, Ndagano was most excited about getting a jersey.
“I actually fell in love with the game since I started playing,” Ndagano said. “I would play with my friends every day after school or on the weekends. Coming to America, I wanted to play soccer on an organized team, and wanted to have a jersey with my chosen number on it.”
There was something special about having a jersey that matched your teammates. It showed you belonged.
Ndagano found that sense of belonging, and that first coveted jersey, through the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s program Soccer for Success. Sponsored locally by the Independent Health Foundation, the program is free for all kids in grades K-8, offering soccer drills, nutrition information, and mentoring three days a week. More than 6,000 Western New York youth and more than 300 coaches-mentors have participated in Soccer for Success in Buffalo since May 2012.
“More than just learning and playing soccer, this program gives young people the ability to develop habits that help with physical health and mental health,” said Carrie Meyer, executive director of the Independent Health Foundation. “We know how challenging it can be to stay healthy and active, and Soccer for Success is one way the Independent Health Foundation supports families in our community.”
The program itself was a door opener for Ndagano, helping him hone his soccer skills, receive encouragement and support, and do well academically. Ndagano has also worn team jerseys at local soccer clubs, Hutch-Tech High School, and Division I Canisius College where he will graduate this month with a degree in communications. And while the game of soccer is the star of the program, the road to success comes not just through kicking a ball and getting exercise. Soccer for Success allowed Ndagano to flourish in our community and continues to provide those opportunities for kids in Western New York.
“As a refugee coming to America, I wanted to explore, and Soccer for Success helped me do that,” Ndagano said. “It also helped me with the language. I spoke English a little bit, but being on the field with other kids really helped me, because you have to communicate with your teammates. Soccer for Success showed me that people here are really welcoming, and I love being part of a diverse community that welcomes you.”
For more information on the program, visit buffalosoccerforsuccess.com.