When 4WU’s Abby Rotwein arrives at McCoy Park in North Portland, eager kids run over, shouting her name and offering to carry soccer equipment to the pitch. They can’t wait to get their Tuesday evening scrimmage started. It’s become a weekly highlight for many of them.
“Soccer in the Park” is an opportunity for refugee and immigrant children to play summer soccer for free. 4WU supplies coaches and equipment each Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at parks adjacent to low-income housing. Rotwein coordinates these rambunctious games and credits her dedicated volunteer coaches and players for much of the summer program’s success. “Soccer in the Park” began in 2006 and reaches up to 120 kids per week.
Rotwein has been running scrimmages for seven summers and is a familiar, friendly face to players who affectionately call her “Coach Abby.” Rotwein says she wants her players to know hard work will make them successful in whatever they do. While Rotwein teaches kids the rules of soccer and aims to improve technique and sportsmanship, she is really working to develop a work ethic that will serve her players off the pitch too. Rotwein explains, “Structure and consistency make a really big difference in the lives of kids.”
Some players who demonstrate good soccer skills, sportsmanship and work ethic are identified during “Soccer in the Park” scrimmages and connected with soccer programs that continue throughout the year. It is 4WU and Rotwein’s goal to provide qualified players with a plan to continue playing soccer in the fall on recreational or club soccer teams. Northeast United and Portland City United work to make pay-to-play programs accessible to 4WU players.
“It’s been really exciting to be a part of it and watch it grow,” Rotwein says, referring to “Soccer in the Park.” Rotwein’s long standing commitment to 4WU allows her to positively impact the lives of players who face and overcome significant challenges, including poverty. Rotwein enjoys “seeing kids who were maybe really angry or a little bit wild when we started playing with them when they were five or six and now they’re middle schoolers and they’re playing on club teams ….as disciplined, hardworking, young men.”