No matter how many goals are scored or lessons are learned, everyone is a winner at the annual youth soccer camp sponsored by Brother Bill’s Helping Hand.
That’s true for about 100 children in kindergarten through fifth grade who attend the three-day camp for free, play games on and off the field, and then take home a soccer ball and various other goodies.
It’s also true for the volunteer coaches, who are high school students from Highland Park and other high schools who form lasting bonds with students from the West Dallas neighborhood surrounding the Eladio Martinez Learning Center, many of who face significant economic hardships.
“Through soccer, you can really reach out to the kids here,” said camp co-director Andrew Bowman. “This is a great way to have fun and not take it too seriously.”
Bowman’s family started the camp when Andrew was a freshman at Highland Park High School, when the soccer standout told his father, Brad, that he wanted to start a project through their church that would make a lasting impact.
Bowman has since graduated from HPHS and Baylor University, and has enrolled in medical school.
But he has remained involved in the annual soccer camp, even taking over the reins from his father.
“It gives these high schoolers an opportunity to give back. They really get invested and they love these kids,” Bowman said. “Sometimes they get more out of it than anybody.”
This year’s camp featured about 35 counselors, about half of who are high school soccer players. Special guests included some Dallas-area semipro soccer players, and sponsors donated items such as backpacks and sunscreen for giveaways.
“It’s really fun to build relationships with the kids,” said HPHS senior Megan Uhr, who has volunteered at the camp for three years. “They really open up to you.”
Brother Bill’s is a mission that supports families in the neighborhood with a food pantry, a medical clinic, and other financial and social assistance. The students are invited to the camp as a reward for their performance in school.
“The parents love the fact that they have this opportunity for their kids,” said Brother Bill’s executive director Suzanne Griffin. “It impacts their lives.”
Although the counselors make an effort to teach the basics of soccer during the three days, they know that it’s not always the top priority.
Said camp co-director Molly McCann: “Hopefully they come away with more soccer than they came with.”