COMMUNITY: Soccer Without Borders' Eric Cortez helps under-served youth

2020 - Eric cortez web

The Quakes and Wells Fargo are humbled and inspired by the amazing work of our frontline communities and neighbors in this time of crisis. Each week, we’ll be featuring and highlighting the work of one fantastic neighborhood hero, showcasing the great work they are doing and the organizations our community can rally around.

Additionally, a donation will be made to an organization or community project on behalf of each week’s hero. This week we will be donating to Soccer Without Borders.

Since 2006, Soccer Without Borders has been providing soccer-based educational programs for immigrant youth, refugees and unaccompanied minors in the Bay Area. 

SWB was founded in Oakland, but has become an international organization. They provide educational development programs for under-served youth in the United States and around the world. The SWB program model creates avenues for growth, inclusion, and personal success with soccer being the vessel to support these pillars. 

SWB uses the game of soccer as a universal language to bond individuals and families, communities and cultures. Their main mission is inclusion, with hopes of preventing exclusion and isolation in the immigrant youth and refugee communities. 

“Soccer Without Borders disrupts the industry in a way that provides opportunity to every player, in an environment that gives a safe space and sense of belonging,” says Eric Cortez, the organization's Program Coordinator.

SWB Oakland provides free year-round direct service to over 600 newcomer youth annually. Growing up a soccer player in different settings and environments, Eric recognized that his love for the game and his passion for helping others was much needed in the marginalized youth communities. He asked himself, “Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?”

He has been trying to be part of the solution since 2016. “I see myself using my knowledge and platform to join a network of like-minded professionals that use the game as a catalyst for integration and change, and advocating for marginalized youth populations,” says Eric. 

Eric sees the sport as a hook to teach educational components while allowing kids a positive atmosphere to play, compete, learn and grow together. “Sense of belonging is the core for our participants. Soccer creates an even playing field,” he says. 

All soccer programming contains educational components such as English language development and civic engagement. The coaches and volunteers regularly implement a “Word of the Day,” with small-group discussions of the definitions and translations for words such as ‘overcome’ or ‘resilience.’ 

When the pandemic hit, the global SWB team strategized how to best continue supporting the social and educational wellness of the youth while having to operate remotely. Despite the inability to have the usual programming, SWB has set up online learning platforms through Zoom and Google Classroom to maintain companionship, mentorship and language education. They have featured many guest speakers discussing topics such as health, wellness, education and fitness. 

So far, remote learning has been effective for a large portion of SWB youth. 

  • 1,335 global participants directly reached through remote programming.
  • 679 global participants engaged in mentoring activities outside of team programming.
  • 120 teams from five countries are participating in at-home seasons.

Eric and SWB Oakland staff and volunteers have also been distributing food at Life Academy in the early mornings to support thousands of families in need. And there’s no signs of slowing down for Eric in his mission to help others. “Soccer Without Borders is what I see myself doing for the time to come,” he says. 

He is grateful for Ben Gucciardi, SWB Founder and Oakland Director. “I’m very fortunate and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of his mission in disrupting a revenue-based industry by using the game as a vehicle advocating for newcomer youth in America.”