SWOLing for Good: Highlighting the Work of Kicking Across Carolina

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KAC Founders Dylan, Sasha and Ahmad

We call it the world’s game. We call it the beautiful game. We wear our teams’ and countries’ colors with exuberant pride. We roar loudly at every goal and exhale with relief at every clean sheet.

Soccer is a game built on deft skills and artfully executed teamwork; fueled by deep rooted passion and commitment. But, there is another side to the game we love, where those same skills, teamwork, passion and commitment are channeled towards a greater good as well as a common goal.

Around the world, soccer has become an amazing tool for creating meaningful social change. From major European and US cities to remote parts of Africa and Central America, there are dozens of nonprofit programs, clubs and NGOs which step onto the pitch to address some of the planet’s biggest challenges. These issues include poverty, homelessness, disease prevention, literacy, environmental awareness, racial equality, disabilities and a myriad of other critical issues.

At Soccer Without Limits (SWOL), we want to shine a light on those who channel their love for the game into their work in the community. Every touch, every pass, every tackle takes on greater meaning when the goal is a win for more than the shirt on your back.

We encourage you to take a moment and learn more about these amazing organizations and how you can channel your own passion and commitment to soccer into making a difference in the world.

And that is truly a beautiful game.

Program Name: Kicking Across Carolina
Location (City/State): Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Website: www.kickingacrosscarolina.com
Contact: kickingacrosscarolina@gmail.com, 252-617-3788

Kicking Across Carolina is a soccer non-profit organization dedicated to promoting peaceful coexistence through the game of soccer. It began as a group of three college friends—one Christian, one Jew, and one Muslim—who put aside their religious differences for a common goal and dribbled a soccer ball each across the state of North Carolina.

The group worked to raise money for three organizations that embodied the peaceful coexistence—Soccer for Peace, the Maccabim Association, and the Peres Center for Peace—which all aim to unite children of war-torn nations in their shared love of soccer.

However, even more importantly, KAC hoped that by showing others how three young men of very different faiths could be united through their love of soccer, it could open up constructive dialogue into how everyone can learn to coexist.

Still students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the group is now working to integrate the idea of teamwork into their campus and community in Chapel Hill. KAC is now an official UNC organization, planning a soccer tournament for this upcoming spring, and looking to get involved using soccer as a tool for inclusion here at home.

Most importantly, though, the group is looking for help. They are three students with drive and passion, but none has ever run a non-profit before. With this responsibility come questions: What goes into making a successful one? How do you keep people interested? How do you keep achieving new goals?

As such, SWOL will be writing this series of articles with two main goals. First, we want to publicize these awesome non-profits—all of us are big soccer fans and we love how the sport can be used for good. And, secondly, we want to learn what goes in to making an effective soccer non-profit from these already established organizations.

What has been the biggest challenge in running Kicking Across Carolina?

No doubt the biggest challenge has been our schedules. We’re all three full-time students who are involved in a wide variety of activities across campus, and coordinating meetings and projects can definitely be tough.

What are some of the life skills that playing soccer teaches us?

Soccer teaches a plethora of different skills that we need to truly succeed in life—hard work, dedication, perseverance, etc.—but the part of soccer that Kicking Across Carolina likes to focus on is teamwork. Soccer teaches us how to work together to achieve a common goal. It teaches us how to get along with people who we might not see eye-to-eye with. And, it teaches us how to put aside our differences for the game that we all love.

Often when people meet, they meet as members of two different religions, or races, or nationalities. When they meet on the soccer field as teammates, they meet as two people who both love the same game.

How did Kicking Across Carolina get started?

Almost one full year ago, I was sitting in a dining hall enjoying my freshly made bowl of fruit loops when my roommate first presented us with his idea. It was myself, my roommate Dylan Simel, and one of our best friends Ahmad Saad. Dylan had invited us all to lunch, and had an “awesome idea” he wanted to share with us.

Now Dylan, Ahmad, and I had a bit of a special relationship. All students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, we had formed our friend group through the vibrant pick-up soccer scene at UNC. I had known Dylan for years as we grew up together in the same town and had played soccer together since we were young, and I knew Ahmad as we were teammates on UNC’s club soccer team, but our trio really formed through the pick-up games on UNC’s recreational fields. We all loved soccer, and we became friends through the game we loved.

But what made our group special were not our similarities, but our differences. I am a Christian, Dylan is Jewish, and Ahmad is Muslim. Yet these differences played no role in the formation of our friendship, as we were able to put aside our differences through the game that we loved.

We thought that was pretty special, and we began to wonder if that couldn’t happen all over the world as well. Conflict exists in nearly every corner of the globe, from the Americas to Africa to the Middle East. Yet, at the same time, so too does soccer, the most played and watched sport on the planet. We believed that if soccer had the power to create a common bond among us, couldn’t it do so with people around the world? Despite our different religions we bonded over a game that the whole world knows and loves. Couldn’t soccer help to create those same bonds all over the world?

That’s when we found Soccer for Peace. A non-profit organization aiming to unite children of war-torn nations in their shared love of soccer, Soccer for Peace works under the same principle that we became friends through—that people will put aside their differences using soccer. It works in the Israel/Palestine area, holding children’s soccer camps with the idea that when playing soccer a Muslim is not passing to a Jew or a Jew passing to a Christian, but rather a teammate passing to another teammate. We thought this was a brilliant idea, and we tried to figure out how we could help.

That’s when Dylan hit us with his idea. “Guys…let’s dribble soccer balls across the United States.” There was a bit of a pause as Ahmad and I considered this feat, and after a minute Ahmad uttered what we were both thinking: “Now, let’s hold on for a second Forrest Gump…” and we soon came to the conclusion that the U.S. was pretty far. But we could do North Carolina.

So, as a result, this past May the three of us dribbled a soccer ball each across the state of North Carolina from Asheville to Morehead City (a distance of over 450 miles). It took us exactly three weeks, as we covered between 20 and 25 miles each day. It was certainly difficult, but it was a journey that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Travelling along North Carolina’s back roads, we saw just how beautiful our state could be. We met some of the friendliest people you could ever meet, and we discovered that a whole lot of people really love soccer. We raised a little over $10,000 for Soccer for Peace, but most of all, we believed that by showing others how three young men of very different faiths can be united through their love of soccer, we opened up some constructive dialogue into how we all can learn to coexist.

How can soccer fans get involved to support Kicking Across Carolina?

After our journey, the three of us split ways over the summer. I headed to Brazil, Ahmad to Egypt, and Dylan to work in a summer camp. But, when we returned to UNC in the fall, we picked right back up where we left off, and now Kicking Across Carolina is an official campus organization at UNC-Chapel Hill. We’ve got plans for a tournament this upcoming spring, and we haven’t stopped taking donations or selling t-shirts (modeled beautifully in the photo below) that you can purchase online.

We would love your support, and if you’d like to find out more about KAC or who the group supports (or to purchase one of our stylish tees) you can find out more here:

Kicking Across Carolina: http://kickingacrosscarolina.com/

Soccer for Peace: http://www.soccerforpeace.com/

Or like us on facebook at Kicking Across Carolina!

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