The Orlando Pride teams up with the Orlando City Foundation to assist children and families in under-served communities to live healthier lives and to be educated on overall wellness. The Foundation focuses on encouraging more physical activity by scheduling soccer programs and building safe fields, or mini-pitches as they call them, for several communities throughout Central Florida. The Foundation also works to create community gardens in order to educate on healthier food choices and sustainability.
The Orlando Pride hosts several community fundraising events where fans, members of the community, players, and staff are invited to attend. Past events included the Purple Pop-Up Party, Orlando City Foundation Soccer Ball 2020 and the 2019 Footgolf Tournament.
The Kicking It Back Club helps in planning soccer events and games, providing safe fields to play on, and offering tips on health and wellness.
Interview with President of Orlando City Foundation, Kay Rawlins
What do you do within the organization?
Well, firstly, I’m one of the founders of the club itself. So, I came here in 2011 to Orlando and we started playing in the United Soccer Leagues, which is the minor leagues. We moved to Major League Soccer in 2015. We brought Orlando Pride on in 2016. So, my role is all the community outreach for the club, so that includes everything from player appearances, obviously charitable and community appearances for the players, not the ones they get paid for; donation requests, mostly in the form of silent auction items, signed memorabilia, tickets to games; those kinds of things, to help other local nonprofits be able to make some dollars. I do a lot of public speaking on behalf of the club and the foundation. I sit on a bunch of community boards, do work and liaise with local governments and then work with other sports organizations, with other nonprofits. There’s a lot of collaboration that goes on in this market, and we’re proud to be part of that too.
What is the mission or goal of the foundation?
I think, as the founder of the foundation as well, it was mainly as a result of someone giving me a report on childhood obesity. It was very much focused in the area where I stayed in there, Parramore, and I read it and was just dismayed and obviously upset and worried about what’s happening with the nation’s children. The report basically talked about a lack of safe places to play; a lack of a good, healthy diet; and these were some of the issues that the kids are facing. And when you read about the knock-on effects of childhood obesity as well, heart disease, liver failure, stunted growth; and then obviously some of the depression and anxiety and all the kinds of things that can also go with that; and under a lesser life expectancy. Then we started kind of thinking, well, how can we as a club… What can we do? So that was why the foundation was formed. Our focus is health and wellness and trying to do it in a very holistic way. We bring opportunities for children to be able to exercise, so the programming, like I say, every single thing is free. There’s no barriers to kids playing, and soccer is one of the few sports that everyone can play; you don’t have to be a seven-foot-tall basketball player or a 350 pound football player. You can be any size, height, whatever you want to be. You need very little equipment; as a kid, I could play in the streets, you just throw a couple of sweaters down on the floor and there was your goal. So, it’s a very accessible sport, but yeah, like I say, we do it in a very holistic way by building safe places to play.
What does the organization do for the community?
We obviously raise dollars and then we spend them back into our community. We build mini pitches, so they are mini soccer fields basically. We usually take a facility that’s already there, so it’s attached to a boys and girls club or a community center, usually a tennis court, that we convert into a soccer pitch. Then we bring free soccer programs. We know a lot of the kids in some of these really under-resourced areas. There are so many barriers for them playing a sport, so one of the things that we wanted to do was make sure that we took away all of those barriers. So, we provide all the equipment that they need to actually play, the balls, the cones, the pennies; and then also for themselves personally, so shirts, socks, shin guards; and in some cases actual footwear as well. We have kids who don’t have appropriate footwear, so we’re able to help them with that too. We do 12-week programs that have a word of the week; like respect, attitude, teamwork. It has a skill of the week and then a nutrition element, and that was where we came to the third piece of what we do, which is install community gardens. And they can be anything from three raised beds next to one of our mini-pitches, to 20 beds, 30 beds, in kind of community areas where families can adopt one of the beds for themselves and grow food for their family. Unfortunately, fresh, healthy food tends to be the most expensive. This is a way of helping people in these underserved communities be able to help themselves.
What does the club do for fundraising?
So, Orlando Pride, we’re actually doing some really cool things with them this year. Normally they would help fundraise on behalf of the foundation; for example, game-worn jerseys, and especially specialty ones, we’ll auction off, and obviously that raises quite a lot of dollars for the foundation. Sometimes there’s a very specific reason for the fundraise; for example, during Pride Month, the players will wear jerseys with rainbow numbers and letters on the back, and the money that we raise from auctioning them… And usually, obviously, the players sign them and we put them up on an auction site, that money goes back into diversity and inclusion. Very often it’s LGBTQ organizations here within Orlando that we use those funds for that particular reason, or maybe it’s a female-oriented non-profit that we want to use those funds for. This year with the launch of, I don’t know if you saw, literally the jersey launch; we launched the Pride’s new jersey up into space this year, and we had a “To the stars” theme, so Ad Astra. And so, throughout the season, there will be a bunch of opportunities to raise funds that are going to go into a mission fund. And at the end of the year, we’ll have a committee made up of flyers and some of the stuff from the team, that will then make decisions on how those dollars are going to be spent. And some of the ideas are obviously scholarships, maybe seed money for a women-owned business to start their new venture. We’re still putting all those plans into place, but until we know how much money we’ve raised by the end of the season, it’s hard to kind of pin that down. But it’s something that the players are very excited about, they love to get integrated into the community and this is going to be a really fun way to do it.
How has COVID-19 impacted the foundation?
Yeah. I mean, obviously like everyone, and especially something like us, that normally depends on people turning up in huge numbers to the stadium. So, it was definitely a year of learning and realizing that, like everyone else, we all went home, we all stayed home and worked from home. I think what it did do is make a lot of creativity. People had to think differently because they couldn’t do the traditional things that they were doing. And so, as I said, that’s where the Kicking It Back Club kind of came into its own. And in some ways, this is where zoom… Although I know everyone’s zoomed out and everyone’s kind of had enough, for us it was actually a great opportunity to do some virtual events with our Kicking It Back Club members. Very exclusively, that they could get access to these zoom calls. We did one with players, we had a player from City and a player from Pride on the zoom call, and the Kicking It Back Club members were able to ask them questions and just have some fun with them, I guess. Again, for a nonprofit, that’s a very inexpensive, obviously, way of still engaging with your supporters. And when I say supporters, I also mean, obviously, supporters of the foundation itself. It didn’t cost us anything, but we could still maintain that connection and say thank you to these people, who’ve all signed up for a year or two years or however many years. So, Zoom was actually our friend in that respect. And hopefully, having those touch points throughout the rest of this year as well, those opportunities to engage with the Kicking It Back Club members, means that when their renewal time comes up they’re happy to renew because they feel like they got value from being a part of this club. But yeah, we haven’t been able to do any other kinds of events, so it’s all been very reliant on being online and just having to make those different kinds of outreach.
How can people get involved?
On the website, there is a page of How to help. So, there’s the obvious Donate and join the Kicking It Back Club. You can do AmazonSmile, those are always great because you can designate Orlando City Foundation as your charitable partner; so every time you shop on Amazon we get a little kickback then from that, which is always great. We were trying to get an Orlando City License Plate, specialty license plates, so we have to get like 3000 people to buy a pre-sale voucher, $25. Once we get to the 3000, then people will be able to actually have this specialty plate and it’s something people have been pushing for. Then we do, obviously, have volunteers at certain times throughout the year. One is, obviously, for events, we always need volunteers. Sometimes when we’ve built big community gardens… We did one with 50 raised beds and we had about 200 people come out to help us with the physical work of that, which was building the beds, filling them with compost and soil, actually planting whatever was going to go in those beds as well. So, sometimes there are opportunities to do that. Sometimes we’ll do community cleanups, so we get people to come out and we go around our neighborhoods and pick up trash and generally help beautify where we are.