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27 COMMUNITY MVPs BUILDING BETTER COMMUNITIES

Each season, Major League Soccer and Wells Fargo recognize MLS fans who are making a positive impact in their community. Together, we’ve joined forces to shine a light on those individuals who have gone above and beyond to serve and strengthen our communities.

Fans throughout the soccer community had an opportunity to nominate themselves or any individuals who are working to keep our communities resilient and safe, including healthcare professionals, coaches, principals, teachers, delivery & truck drivers, grocery store employees, first responders and many others.

Representing each MLS Club, 27 Community MVPs were selected. Receiving charitable donations totaling over $65,000, each Community MVP will receive national and local recognition, a donation to a 501(c)(3) related charity, a customized adidas MLS jersey, and an MLS adidas NATIVO 21 Official Match Ball. Since 2013, Wells Fargo and Major League Soccer have donated nearly $400,000 to dozens of non-profits on behalf of our Community MVPs!

YOUR 2021 COMMUNITY MVPs

Mary Beth Knight
Mary Beth Knight
FC Cincinnati FC Cincinnati

Benefiting Organization: MyWhy

Mary Beth has always put others before herself. She has worked with several non-profits and schools in the Cincinnati area for years and every student, child, teacher, and resident who has interacted with her has seen her love and commitment to helping the community. As a P.E. teacher and Resource Coordinator at St. Joseph School in the West End, she always put the needs of the students first. If a child needed lunch, new clothes, or a shoulder to lean on, Mary Beth is that person for each and every student. Before Mary Beth, the core resources were not brought to these students. 

She now continues to impact the West End community through MyWhy. She invests a lot of effort into the community gardens at Hays Porter. She is working to bring in a freight farm, which is a hydroponic growing machine that can turn over thousands of heads of lettuce, beets, carrots and other items can be grown in a big shipping container that will help the community have a harvest every 30 to 45 days. The hope is that, while teaching the students, the access to fresh produce can put an end to the food desert plaguing the West End.

Mariana Ortiz
Mariana Ortiz
Atlanta United FC Atlanta United FC

Benefiting Organization: Familias Azules

Mariana has been an activist in the Atlanta community for over three years advocating for disability rights and promoting civic engagement, especially on the behalf of her Latinx community. She has worked as one of three bilingual Spanish mental health first-aid instructors in the state of Georgia, certified by the National Council of Mental Wellbeing, to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health and increasing knowledge of resources, signs, and symptoms. Through this, she has traveled all over Georgia and trained over 200 individuals. 

Along with this, as part of the Latino Community of Practice, she provides Latinx families who have children with autism with resources (that she develops, finds, and translates) that will help their development and transitions in life. She aids in leading monthly parent support groups, the only of its kind in Georgia, and aids parents to become advocates for their children. She has been a constant advocate for disability rights and has spoken at Georgia and the U.S. Capitol on multiple occasions. This is especially important to her as the older sister to a wonderful sibling who has intellectual and developmental disabilities, and to aid Latinx and primarily Spanish speaking families in navigating the system. 

Furthermore, Mariana is a strong community leader working for voter registration and civic engagement for two years even speaking at Latinx events with Senators Warnock and Ossoff. She continues this work as part of GALEO’s Institute for Leadership and as co-chair of the Voter Registration Committee at Emory’s Rollins Election Day Initiative. Mariana’s passion is contagious and every day she is making a difference in a field where there are very few professionals who care about their community the way that she does. She is the ultimate model of what selfless leadership can look like.

JoAnna McTevia
JoAnna McTevia
Colorado Rapids Colorado Rapids

Benefiting Organization: Bodhi Battalion 

JoAnna goes above and beyond to serve her community. With a long line of military service in her family, JoAnna McTevia, the founder of the Bodhi Battalion, has a profound appreciation for the sacrifices of our country’s veterans. Through her work as a professional therapist, she also learned the extent to which many of our veterans struggle to reintegrate into civilian life.

After extensive work with veterans and their families, JoAnna witnessed the prevalence of homelessness and displacement as a result of PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), substance abuse and a lack of community support or resources. It became evident that the impact these issues have on the veteran, their family and the community they live in is beyond the scope of common understanding.

JoAnna does this job simply because her heart desires to help. Continuing to exhaust all efforts, resources and strategies to achieve justice and work to help rehabilitate veterans, she is an exceptional woman and with the help of her team they inspire change in individuals.

Ernesto Gonzalez
Ernesto Gonzalez
Chicago Fire Chicago Fire

Benefiting Organization: My Block My Hood My City

Ernesto, a proud born and raised South Side Chicagoan, is the Marketing Manager of the non-profit “My Block My Hood My City.” Not only is he extremely kind, patient and helpful, Ernesto has built a connection between the Chicago Fire and his organization so that the partnership can be maximized to help the youth and neighborhoods they serve. 

Ernesto has led and been part of initiatives with his organization, such as their volunteer program, BlockFit (encouraging people to be healthy), Senior Services (grocery delivery to the elderly), Block Club Services (neighborhood clean-ups and events), Be a Part of the Light (holiday community decorating and celebration), and their Youth Explorers Program which provides work opportunities, educational explorations, culinary experiences and more to youth from divested neighborhoods.

 Being a son of immigrant parents, Ernesto has seen the many different sides of the city. With that knowledge, he hopes to provide individuals in the city with different opportunities. When he is not out enjoying one of the 77 communities in the city, he loves to watch soccer. Ernesto has made tireless efforts in making the Chicago community a better place by investing in Chicago’s youth, beautifying Chicago’s neighborhoods, and creating opportunities for everyone to help their neighbors.

Michael Rush
Michael Rush
Columbus Crew SC Columbus Crew SC

Benefiting Organization: West Ohio Food Bank

Michael works at Ohio Northern University (ONU) as the Employee Wellness Director. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Michael and his team were on the frontlines making sure that the University could continue to have in-person classes. Due to their dedication, ONU was one of only a handful of universities that finished their Spring semester in person. 

Since the pandemic, Michael has been running Covid-19 testing and vaccine clinics free of charge for the campus and the community. He also has continued to do employee screenings, wellness clinics for community business, as well as flu shot clinics. ONU has a Mobile clinic that Michael and his staff take to underserved areas in the community and do medical appointments. 

Michael also finds time to make it to his sons’ soccer practices and events. His passion for the wellness of others rubs off on those that work with him and make them excited to help others. He is also teaching his sons about how rewarding helping others and working hard can be.

Chris Naspo
Chris Naspo
New York Red Bulls New York Red Bulls

Benefiting Organization: All Kids One Field

Chris Naspo is a Health and PE teacher in Freehold Boro, NJ. Freehold Boro is a very diverse, small town within the larger town of Freehold. Much of its population is comprised of Latino families whose children attend Chris’ school. Chris has forged relationships with all of his students and is known by many in the community. His outgoing, fun, compassionate personality draws people to him. He truly loves the town and the people gathered within it. 

A soccer dad himself he started to notice that many of his students, while amazing soccer players, did not play for the Freehold Soccer League like his own sons did. After digging deeper and asking around in the community, he realized there were many limitations and inequities facing the Latino community in the town. 

As an educator and soccer dad, he recognized the power of the sport and how it could enact social change. So he decided to do something about it! He started All Kids One Field (AKOF) a non-profit charity made up of different members of the community. Chris wanted to use the game of soccer to create lifelong friendships for the youth in the community. The mission was simple: to bridge diverse groups within the community by promoting participation in community sports, local sporting events, and wellness activities. 

Other organizations and community leaders (i.e. the mayor, NJ Senator, police chief and school board) heard about the mission of All Kids One Field and quickly got behind it. The first event, an indoor Soccer Night, was held January of 2020. The turnout was incredible! The Red Bulls Street Team performed, community groups set up information tables, local businesses donated food, parents and children participated in soccer skills together, and friendships were formed. This set the stage for a free indoor futsol program to begin, where students in both Freehold Boro and Freehold Township came together weekly to learn skills and participate in friendly matches together. 

While Covid put a halt to this after only a few weeks, Chris and AKOF did not stop! Instead, Chris conducted zoom meetings with his board, made phone calls to reach out to more community leaders to see what could be done when things opened back up again, and used this time to build a stronger foundation of bridging communities and tearing down social inequities. This summer AKOF came back stronger than ever with their outdoor Soccer Night! With over 750+ in attendance; families, kids, senators, mayors, police officers, board of education leaders and even the school superintendent came out for a fantastic night of community. 

The mission of All Kids One Field took on a life of its own when the coaches from both Freehold Boro and Freehold Township forged a friendship at Soccer Night and decided to get their two teams together for a friendly scrimmage. Chris showed up to witness and watch in awe as his vision came to light. Inequities were off the table and kids and parents just enjoyed a fun night of soccer. 

Thach Nguyen
Thach Nguyen
Seattle Sounders FC Seattle Sounders FC

Benefiting Organization: RAVE Foundation

Thach Nguyen is a long-time Seattle resident who immigrated from Vietnam with his family in the 1970s. He was born into poverty, living in Seattle public housing as a child, with very few resources except a family who believed in him and showed him the value of community. 

Thach is an amazing success story – as he started as a real estate agent and now is one of the knowledgeable, sought after home rehabilitation/investors in the Seattle region (and beyond). Thach is a teacher and a guru to many – but he always leads with his heart. 

Thach’s family, his history and compassion for his community are at the forefront of his success and drive. And now, once more, Thach is putting community first by partnering with Seattle Sounders FC’s philanthropic arm, RAVE Foundation, to build two, small-sided, turf soccer fields in the Seattle community where he grew up. These fields in Seattle Housing Authority’s NewHolly neighborhood will be free, open for play, and unrentable by outside groups. Thach truly believe that through play, everyone belongs. And when children feel they belong, they thrive! These special fields at NewHolly are two of 26 fields that will be built by RAVE by the year 2026. 

Thach has committed to raising half of the project’s budget – $400,000. RAVE and the Seattle community are incredibly honored to have met this special gentleman and do work with him to “pay it forward” to his home community.

Thomas Kutchner
Thomas Kutchner
Philadelphia Union Philadelphia Union

Benefiting Organization: Angels of Christmas

Tom and Gina Kutchner run a non-profit organization called Angels of Christmas that provides gifts and a holiday party for hundreds of local children in need in the Philadelphia area every year. They spend the year raising money with various fundraiser events, such as a comedy night featuring local comedians. 

Parents who need help around the holidays can sign up and provide a wishlist of the presents their children would want. With help from volunteers, Tom and Gina buy presents for the kids, wrap them, and host a holiday party for the families. Through Angels of Christmas, they also help pack and deliver food baskets to hundreds of families during the holiday season. 

Angels of Christmas was founded in 1995, and Tom and Gina have worked tirelessly for the less fortunate members of their community for over 35 years. They have been Philadelphia Union season ticket members since the team’s first season in 2010 and have been loyal and supportive fans since then. 

They’ve never asked for recognition or special funding, instead relying on hard work and their network of friends, family, community members, and volunteers to make a difference in kids’ lives year after year.

Bryan Cando
Bryan Cando
Toronto FC Toronto FC

Benefiting Organization: TB West Community Services

Bryan is the founder of TB West Community Services, where he focuses on female empowerment and building positive role models that contribute to communities in a positive way. He started by providing teens with employment help in parks. Then he created online programs that got people moving like dance and sports workshops. He then developed projects with youth to benefit the most affected during the pandemic. With his youth group, they created a variety of projects. 

From providing care packages for women in shelters to repainting a playground in Jane and Finch to creating back to School packages for high school students at Madonna Catholic School. He’s always trying to help out the most in need. He’s always giving youth an opportunity to build and create positive spaces, impacts and projects in our city. 

He’s selfless and he continues to help out, recently providing recreational opportunities for female teens across the city to get girls moving, even from home. He along with a youth created an aerial aerobics workshop for queer youth in Toronto who have faced significant trauma. 

His ability to see and create opportunities for the most vulnerable members of our city is what sets him apart. He currently is the founder of TB west community services, where he focuses on female empowerment and building positive role models that contribute to communities in a positive way. There’s no one more deserving of this recognition in Toronto!

Erin Scott
Erin Scott
New England Revolution New England Revolution

Benefiting Organization: The Izzy Foundation

Erin is a mom of three beautiful young girls and one brave son who lost his battle to pediatric cancer 23 year ago. She is also a wife, a daughter, a friend, a mentor, a licensed social worker, a teacher, an activist, a theatre supporter, and an advocate for pediatric cancer patients and their families. 

Erin is the Executive Director of The Izzy Foundation, a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization that supports children and their families diagnosed with cancer and other life-threatening diseases both in Rhode Island and nationally. Erin has helped lead this organization in their mission to service the families and children that walk through the doors of Hasbro Children’s Hospital located in Providence, Rhode Island. Services include the hosting of two support groups for bereaved families and families on/off treatment, sponsoring a Y.O.U.T.H. Board that coordinates childhood cancer awareness events, provisioning of scholarships throughout the country for K-12 and College for patients and their siblings, maintaining a holiday “Angel Giving” program which services the families who have lost their child due to pediatric cancers, administering a back-to-school drive, funding, designing, overseeing construction and maintaining “Izzy” spaces, and so much more. 

All these efforts are coordinated and implemented by Erin. While it takes a team of amazing people and donors to fuel The Izzy Foundation’s success, it is Erin’s ability to lead this organization that borders on superhuman. She wholeheartedly and passionately lives by the Foundation’s mission to help children and their families with cancer and other life-threatening diseases to live, laugh, love and play both during and after treatment. 

Beginning in March of 2020, the world rapidly changed due to a global pandemic that has forced us into a world consisting of masks, social distancing, and economic hardship. COVID-19 made The Izzy Foundation’s already challenging mission to provide services and give to our communities was made exponentially more difficult due to the many guidelines that were now part of COVID’s “new normal”. Erin was undeterred by these challenges, embracing the motto which has guided her since her son’s passing: “don’t waste your suffering”. She adapted by pausing any of the in-person services that was a potential health risk, and instead focused on what could be done safely for the children, families, and essential workers moving forward. 

One of Erin’s shining successes involved the Izzy Family Room, an Izzy Space used to provide respite and meals to patients and their families at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. With the room temporarily forced to close due to the pandemic, Erin needed to draw on every bit of her creativity and ingenuity to find a way to continue to serve meals (at least 5 days a week), keep the children and their families entertained and make sure they had a respite from their tiny hospital rooms. Unable to have families come to the Izzy Family Room, Erin decided to bring the room to each and every patient. 

While maintaining her full slate of Executive Director duties, Erin tirelessly coordinated with sponsors and interns to provide the meals and then individually and safely packaged and delivered them to each and every person (children, families and staff) on the floor. She serves nearly 200 people in a day. In addition to her seemingly insurmountable daily accomplishments, Erin does everything in her power to continue raising funds, connecting with community supporters, and checking in with outpatient families that are feeling isolated in their own homes. 

In short, Erin is a real-life superhero, never wavering in her mission to give support while always giving of herself without expecting any type of recognition in return.

Alexis Bedolla Benavente
Alexis Bedolla Benavente
New York City FC New York City FC

Benefiting Organization: City in the Community

Starting as a participant, Alexis Bedolla was a part of City in the Community’s Saturday Night Lights program and Youth Leadership Program. He was committed to creating change in his community in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx. 

As a part of the 50 pitch initiative, the New York City Soccer Initiative, Alexis spoke to Paul Jeffries, Executive Director of Community Development, to build a soccer pitch at MS 127/ Castle Hill where he worked and went to school as a little boy. Alexis continues to give back to the community that he loves, and as he works with NYPD, he can protect, serve and promote safe spaces to youth where he grew up.

Hector Solorio
Hector Solorio
Sporting Kansas City Sporting Kansas City

Benefiting Organization: Ryogoku Soccer Acdemy / 816SFC

Hector Solorio is the owner of Hector’s Auto Service at 9th & Prospect and has worked in Historic Northeast for over twelve years. His favorite part of living and working in the community, he said, is the closeness of the Latino community in Northeast.

When he’s not wrenching on cars at the shop, Solorio volunteers his time for the soccer club he founded, 816 SFC Futbol Club, a youth soccer organization that stresses teamwork, family, hard work and passion. 816 SFC practices regularly in a vacant lot at 9th and Prospect, using soccer as way to create safe spaces for kids in what is typically known as one of the more dangerous parts of town. Even if a kid cannot afford to play, he never turns them down and finds a way to get them on a team, which often times means using his own money to sponsor kids. 

Hector is also a huge and long-term Sporting KC fan and Cauldron member (SKC supporters group). He shows up early, hypes up fans every match, beats the drums and is the life of the party in the supporters section. His enthusiasm for the game and how he brings people together in his community is admirable. He’s an advocate for marginalized communities and is invested in doing all he can to help advance kids forward and using the game to do so. All of his kids currently work in soccer and they are carrying out their father’s legacy. 

Francine Laplante
Francine Laplante
CF Montréal CF Montréal

Benefiting Organization: La Fondation Nèz pour Vivre

Francine Laplante is an extraordinary woman who has been more than actively involved with the Montréal community. Francine got involved with the youth of the Center Jeunesse de Montréal from a very simple idea: celebrate children’s birthdays in style! 

This idea, seemingly simple, has had a different effect in the community. In fact, it has changed the lives of the young and old! Since the creation of this project, Francine has impacted the lives of more than 200 young people, almost every two months! Whether it’s Halloween, Valentine’s Day or the coming holiday season, she is always involved. She always takes the time to personalize each message for the youth. 

To illustrate the grandiose aspect of Francine and her dedication, she is preparing to donate an organ to a child in need in the coming months. It is apparent that Francine is someone who is self-less, gets involved and gives all of her time for others, but here we have proof that Francine gives more than time and money to children in need…she literally gives herself.

Luis Garcia-Alvarez
Luis Garcia-Alvarez
Houston Dynamo Houston Dynamo

Benefiting Organization: System for Education Empowerment and Success

Luis has dedicated more than 16 years to working for the benefit of underserved individuals in the Houston area. He is a highly experienced and skilled immigrant Latino community leader, currently the co-founder and President of System for Education Empowerment and Success (SEDES) – one Houston’s most reputable institutions providing inspirational leadership and direction to thousands of underserved individuals by promoting education as the base to achieve success. 

Luis received the 2018 Mayor’s Leadership Literacy Award from Houston’s Mayor Silvester Turner, and the 2021 Mayor’s Hispanic Heritage Award in the Community Activist category. The City of Houston and Mayor Sylvester Turner also proclaimed October 5th as the Luis Angel Garcia-Alvarez Day, acknowledging the tremendous impact that Luis has made on the Houston community. Luis has made enormous personal sacrifices to help community members flee under adverse conditions; even during challenging times, he has been on the front line bringing new opportunities to those who aspire a better quality of life. 

Despite COVID-19, SEDES served 1,200 individuals, delivering about 10,000 instructional hours, while community members donated 4,244 volunteer hours, creating a tremendous impact in the city. Additionally, Luis’s priority has been to increase the number of individuals benefiting from the online educational programs and ensure that they develop resilient skills during the pandemic. 

Luis is a living example of the American Dream as he arrived in the U.S. 17 years ago. He founded and turned the System for Education Empowerment and Success (SEDES) into one of the most reputable literacy institutions in the Houston area. SEDES was not given to him or handed down to him, he built this organization from the ground up, and it has served thousands of families in the Greater Houston Area for the last 13 years. 

Luis is also an avid Dynamo fan. He rarely misses a game and encourages the attendance of SEDES students and their children to the Dynamo matches through the tickets that SEDES receives from the Kicks 4 Kids program from the Houston Dynamo Charities. 

Kevin Yang
Kevin Yang
Vancouver Whitecaps FC Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Benefiting Organization: Canada SCORES

Kevin Yang serves as Executive Director of Canada SCORES. Canada SCORES is a free after school program that brings children, families, and communities together in school environments to create a support system for learning and community engagement. The program uses a unique combination of soccer, poetry, and community projects to enhance physical activity, health and wellness, self-expression, academic engagement, and community involvement. It is the Canadian affiliate to America SCORES. 

Kevin’s journey with Canada SCORES began in 2013 when he began volunteering with the organization. He was part of the development board, helped manage the organization’s website, and was also a volunteer soccer coach. Now, as Executive Director, Kevin oversees all aspects of the organization including programming and fundraising. From Junior Programming for Grades 1-3, Core Programming for Grades 4-5, and Scores in Action Programming for Grades 6 and 7, the various levels of programming include the development of soccer skills, poetry, and even leadership, entrepreneurial skills and financial literacy training. 

Kevin is also responsible for organizing all fundraising initiatives for the organization, including their largest event each year – the Scores Cup Soccer Tournament, where major companies in the Vancouver area raise funds to compete in a tournament against other companies, with proceeds going to Canada SCORES. In addition to Scores Cup, Kevin is also instrumental in organizing the Red Carpet Poetry Slam, a celebration of the Canada SCORES participants’ successes in writing poetry while raising awareness and funding to remove financial barriers from participation. Kevin also works directly with Whitecaps FC on activations such as the Kid Captain program, where a participant from the Canada SCORES program is selected to attend WFC home matches and where they are featured on the videoboard in a pre-match presentation, and on community clinics hosted by WFC for the participants of Canada SCORES. 

Kevin is a hands-on leader who works passionately to keep Canada SCORES as a purposeful and impactful program in the lives of the children who need it the most. He acts as a mentor for the participants and is a role model they can look up to. He exemplifies the values of using the platform of sport and philanthropy to improve the world around him!

Vernon Medicine Cloud
Vernon Medicine Cloud
San Jose Earthquakes San Jose Earthquakes

Benefiting Organization: Indian Health Center of Santa Clara

Vernon has engaged with the Native American communities in Northern California working to provide vaccinations and helping to fundraise for multiple tribes throughout the pandemic. For over 14 years, Vernon has dedicated his everyday life to helping those in the community and never asks for anything in return. Vernon is a true inspirational advocate for Native Americans. 

Over the last few weeks, Vernon and his team put together the San Jose Earthquake’s Native American Heritage Celebration vs. FC Dallas. Working with the Vernon and the Indian Health Center of Santa Clara has been one of the most rewarding and positive experiences I have ever had. After facing a pandemic, where the most affected demographic was Native Americans, Vernon has dealt with greater number and communities than ever before needing his help. Without any questions, Vernon has continued to help those in need however he can.

Ismael Guzmán
Ismael Guzmán
Austin FC Austin FC

Benefiting Organization: East Austin Soccer Club

Ismael Guzmán is selflessly dedicated to the lower income community in East Austin and to the beautiful game of soccer. He is a legend to the children and young people who have played for East Austin Soccer Club (EASC). For over a decade, Guzmán has provided access to competitive teams to low-income youth, and has single-handedly curated the fields on which his players are nurtured to become better athletes on and off the pitch. Guzmán has focused his efforts on providing underprivileged children the opportunity to play competitive soccer at a sufficiently low cost to families in a city where poverty disproportionately affects people of color, and many children are less likely to participate in organized soccer. 

The fee for EASC is $150 per season. The expenses are dedicated solely to paying for uniforms and the referee fees. While a small portion of player fees help with the field maintenance, Guzmán covers the majority of the field maintenance, an expensive and exhausting task. Guzmán spends between six to seven hours on his personal lawnmower, with gas he purchases himself, to mow the vast amount of land.

Ryan Kenneally
Ryan Kenneally
Portland Timbers Portland Timbers

Benefiting Organization: Adaptive Sports Northwest

Ryan is an athlete, a true leader, and a role model for both youth and adults in Oregon and in Power Soccer, the adapted form of soccer for youth and adults with severe disabilities. Ryan was born with muscular dystrophy which has progressed with age, and he currently is a power wheelchair user. 

Ryan has established, coordinated, played and coached Power Soccer in the Portland community. He has coached power wheelchair users aged 6 to 60 – he is articulate, encouraging, gentle, patient and empowering to all the participants. As a result of his dedication and strong organizational skills, Adaptive Sports Northwest (ASNW) has been able to apply and be awarded four grants from the Portland Timbers Community Fund! These funds have been used to rent practice space, buy sport power chairs and adaptive accessories to prevent damage to expensive power chairs.

Mario Wimberly
Mario Wimberly
Minnesota United FC Minnesota United FC

Benefiting Organization: TC Sol Futsal (Sol of the Cities)

Chief Visionary Officer, Mario Wimberly, helped found TC Sol Futsal with the imperative service model of eliminating the financial barrier in youth sports. TC Sol Futsal strives to provide competitive futsal in a positive environment, while promoting physical health and neighborhood give-back to marginalized communities. 

Mario has made it his mission to provide access to quality, competitive sports for low-income children in the Twin Cities. He believes that this game has the ability to bring different people, from different backgrounds, together and does not want finances to limit that imperative connection at a young age. By providing futsal camps, clinics and leagues around Minneapolis and St. Paul, in turn Mario and his team are developing a strong, positive, multicultural community. 

A large focus for their athletes is to continuously develop them off the pitch as well, by providing healthy meals and food drives, as well as encouraging community service hours for all their kids – instilling that it’s important to uplift others as you rise. 

Mario, his family, and his team are truly building up the next generation and highlighting cross-cultural relationships through this beautiful game.

Victor Murillo
Victor Murillo
Los Angeles FC Los Angeles FC

Victor (or “Coach Victor”) is known for always giving back. At 7 years of age, Victor Murillo was introduced to the game of baseball at Solano Elementary, located in Los Angeles, California, during an after-school program. It did not take long for Victor to join a parks and recreation league and learn how to play organized sports. 

Through this experience and the love for competitive sports, Victor proceeded to participate in other sports. During school hours at Solano Elementary, students would occasionally be taken outside for about an hour to kick around a large red rubber ball or run around and play freeze tag. It was the lack of sports play during recess and lunch that made Victor race home after school to complete his homework and return to the after-school program to play sports. Victor quickly learned if he wanted to join any school team sports, he would have to earn a “C” average or better if he wanted to play. It was this “policy” that led Victor to aim high to be able to participate. 

After high school, Victor was hired by the Los Angeles Unified School District as an after-school program director. He worked at various after school programs at elementary schools as a coach and mentor for young students for four years. Victor coached multiple teams at various tournaments throughout the City of Los Angeles and was given awards for their involvement.

Benefiting Organization: Athletes in the Making

The tragedies that occurred on 9/11 led Victor on a path to join the United States Marine Corp to serve his country. After the years of service and working as a private investigator assisting law enforcement throughout the country for seven years, Victor realized he wanted to continue his service and return to his true passion by mentoring children through sports.

In addition to becoming a board member and volunteer at Athletes in the Making, Coach Victor has also been a part of “Big Brother Big Sister” program as a Big Brother. Victor has been a vital part of Solano Elementary fundraising as a member of the PTA. He promotes healthy living through exercise by promoting “City of Angels” boxing gym in Los Angeles. He has actually brought the school and the gym to collaborate to raise money for leadership programs for the students.

Every Thanksgiving, Victor feeds the homeless, and every year during Christmas morning, he visits hospitals with his family and donates toys to kids inside. During the stay-at-home order due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, he brought toys, food and sports equipment to those in need. 

Victor will never ask for anything for himself, but always willing to do for others.

Charles Robinson
Charles Robinson
D.C. United D.C. United

Charles Robinson, more popularly known as ‘Coach Rob’, has been a staple in the DC soccer community for over 20 years and has made a lasting impact on all of his teams coaching with DC SCORES. As the Dean of Students for Truesdell Elementary School in DC’s Ward 4, he started his involvement with DC SCORES as a volunteer referee. 

Benefiting Organization: DC SCORES

After a couple of seasons, he wanted to be all in and became a soccer coach despite never playing the sport when he was younger. Previously, Truesdell was home to both an elementary and middle school so Coach Rob got experience coaching both boys and girls at various youth ages. His commitment to helping his team both on and off the field led to numerous championships, but more importantly cultivated a safe space for every single kid that was a part of the team. 

The best example of the appreciation and love his team has for Coach Rob was a group poem that the Truesdell team wrote a couple of years ago in honor of him while he was going through medical issues related to his heart. On top of engaging his students, Coach Rob also cultivated an amazing supportive community made up of school administration and family members at Truesdell that show up rain or shine for every single home and away game for Truesdell. 

Recently and more notably, Coach Rob was a fierce advocate and a leader when it came to helping Truesdell redo their soccer field for their school community. For as long as DC SCORES has been established in DC, Coach Rob has been a fundamental part of that effort and has made a tremendous impact on his local community.

Bettina Grzeskowiak
Bettina Grzeskowiak
Orlando City SC Orlando City SC

Benefiting Organization: Embrace of Celebration

Bettina formed Embrace of Celebration as a way to do what she could to try and minimize the hunger and homelessness issues just outside of her community. She has built a huge community awareness and support network, partnering with Second Harvest Food Bank and the Celebration Foundation to assemble and distribute 50 meal bags every week. 

She also coordinates any emergency requests for housing and has started a “sponsor a child” Christmas Angel program for the children currently living in hotels. Bettina is also actively working with local school board and county commissioners to develop a workable set of standards to allow developers to convert existing and derelict hotels into affordable housing to allow those families currently struggling an opportunity to get back on their feet. 

Bettina puts in an incredible amount of hours every week, collecting food donations and coordinating the youth group who put messages of support and hope into every child’s meal bag. She spends 14 hours a day every Saturday coordinating and distributing the meal bags and other needed donations. Over the past 18 months, she has developed a partnership with Panera Bread, a local church, and a number of other community organizations to ensure that she has all she needs to assemble and distribute all meal bags. All this is done with zero “regular donation stream”. What Bettina has achieved in such a short period of time is nothing short of amazing.

Michael Thomas
Michael Thomas
FC Dallas FC Dallas

Benefiting Organization: My Possibilities

Michael Thomas, Executive Director of My Possibilities, is involved in almost every aspect of the organization, including but not limited to long-term strategy, fundraising and campaign development, program design, budget planning, campus design and construction.

My Possibilities provides a variety of services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities like Autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries and others. The focus is on continued education in life skills, social skills and job training, including placing adults with disabilities into community employment.

Michael is truly the backbone of this organization and his dedication to his staff and the HIPsters that they serve is unmatched. Many of our FC Dallas Special Olympics Unified Team members also attend My Possibilities and the FC Dallas Foundation is in the process of building a soccer field at the Plano, TX campus.

Ruth Figueroa
Ruth Figueroa
Inter Miami CF Inter Miami CF

Benefiting Organization: The Nirvana Project

Ruth Figueroa is the founder and president of The Nirvana Project, a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization striving to serve the South Florida community by raising awareness in the inclusion of athletes with disabilities in the sport of running from 5Ks, marathons, triathlons & obstacle races. 

While running the Miami Half Marathon in 2016, Ruth observed during the whole tour that there were people participating in the event not only in a wheelchair being pushed by their relatives and/or friends, but also trying to take minimal steps on their own to reach a dream that is only achieved with the strength of the determination of “YES, I CAN”. The organization’s goal is humble, but significant; transmit happiness, generate smiles, build positive feelings through running to as many people as possible, integrating all those who wish to be part of this project. 

The Nirvana Project also was created in loving memory of one of Ruth’s brother, Carlos Josue Paladino, who was in a car accident when he was 21 years old that left him paralyzed in a wheelchair. One year later, one of his legs was amputated due to an infection and he didn’t survive. Ruth’s brother loved sports so much. He was an amazing soccer player, runner and engineering student. Ruth never got the chance to travel back to Nicaragua to say good bye to him.

Ruth is also a full-time mom of two blessings, Mia (age 10) and Israel (age 8). She’s been married to her husband for 16 years and her children have been involved in every step of the organization.  

Matthew Nelson
Matthew Nelson
Real Salt Lake Real Salt Lake

Benefiting Organization: International Rescue Committee 

Matthew Nelson is the Principal of East Midvale Elementary, a title 1 school in Midvale, Utah, with over 99% of his students qualifying for free and reduced lunch. His school is home to a diverse population of students, including refugees and families struggling with homelessness. Matt Nelson is known to bring a positive energy daily to encourage his students and even does handstands to kick off assemblies. 

Not only does Matt work do tremendous work with his students, but he takes his passion for helping outside the school as well. Matt knows the passion his students and neighbors have for soccer and has done tremendous work in bridging the gap and making soccer accessible to everyone. He has worked with local youth soccer clubs to host fundraising drives, clothing drives and skills clinics for refugee and immigrant families. Matt is relentless in making sure his students have access to every resource they need to succeed in and out of the classrooms.

Nelly Cristales
Nelly Cristales
LA Galaxy LA Galaxy

Benefiting Organization: 32nd Street Visual Art Magnet School

Nelly Cristales teaches second grade at 32nd Street/USC Visual & Performing Arts Magnet School. She is a passionate educator who goes above and beyond to challenge her students at all levels of ability to make academic progress and develop skills to endure and solve challenges. She has been a teacher for over 20 years.

Day and night, her passion for her current and former students is so obvious. Reaching out to parents, staying long hours after school, bringing outside programs from USC to ensure not only her students, but all students at her site have academic support; inspiring them to reach academic success no matter their level. Motivating them through words and actions that go hand in hand with what she believes…that all have a unique potential, one she is there to help release from within. Nelly embraces her students as her own.

Charmin Bates
Charmin Bates
Nashville SC Nashville SC

Benefiting Organization: Creative Girls Rock

Charmin is the Founder and Executive Director of Creative Girls Rock® (CGR), a nonprofit organization based in Nashville, TN created to educate, inspire, and empower women to utilize their creative talent for personal and professional development. 

Creative Girls Rock was birthed from Charmin’s passion for creative arts, youth development, community engagement and, a therapeutic method for anxiety. The CGR mission is to educate and empower young girls and women to utilize their creative talents in unique ways to enhance creativity and to foster balanced living, personal growth and happiness. 

CGR offers free programming, CGR Master Classes, within the Nashville community as a platform for creative expression, arts and crafts, artistic design, visual arts and empowerment workshops. The CGR Master class helps youth and women to explore their emotions, develop self-awareness, cope with stress, anxiety and boost self-esteem. 

As an advocate for young professionals and community engagement, Charmin commits her volunteer   time fighting to end poverty and mentoring youth. She has developed and executed three 10-week   summer camp programs designed to bring youth and families out of poverty for the  Boys  & Girls Clubs  of Middle Tennessee and the Brentwood Family YMCA.

COMMUNITY MVP TESTIMONIALS

Celia Ward-Wallace

2020 MLS WORKS Community MVP

It was such an honor to be recognized for the work we’ve done in the community, fighting for racial, social, economic, and food equity. We’re so grateful to be supported in this work by Wells Fargo and our LAFC and MLS family. It truly takes a village to make a difference, and united together we are able to have a huge impact!

Julio Gutierrez

2016 MLS WORKS Community MVP Finalist

We all shared the similar goal in which we wanted to give hope to others in our community by giving our time and energy to improve it.

Overall, the Community MVP Program was a wonderful experience and this is a great way to demonstrate how your community work has impacted others’ lives. Having [Major League Soccer] recognize you is an unforgettable experience that I wish all leaders could go through. This Contest is not just to celebrate your accomplishments, but to motivate future leaders and show that their work does not go unrecognized.

This is a great way to show that no leader deserves to go unnoticed and to inspire others to help their community in any way.

Bobby Samra

2013 MLS WORKS Community MVP Grand Prize Winner

We galvanized so many people for a common cause. It was awesome seeing the soccer community come together to try to win for charity. There are many people who work hard to benefit others. The Community MVP Program is a great way to recognize their unselfish work.

Omari McCleary

2016 MLS WORKS Community MVP Finalist

Community Service and Social Work deserve accolade and praise just as much as feats of athleticism.

I think all sports have the potential to be transformative, but I believe soccer specifically has a capacity for social change and connectedness. A lot of the possibilities that soccer can inspire goes without recognition and celebration, and yet it’s vital to highlight those who are utilizing the sport for social impact. The Community MVP Program goes beyond acknowledgement, it could possibly inspire someone to get involved.

Stephen Schirra

2016 MLS WORKS Community MVP Grand Prize Winner

The charitable contribution from the Community MVP Program allowed us to grow our efforts beyond what we ever thought was possible, increasing our impact both domestic and global.

The Community MVP Program…provided us all with an incredible opportunity to network with other leaders in the sport for social change sector, hearing their stories, and drawing inspiration from the work they were doing within their own local communities and beyond.

Knowing how important it was to recognize those using sports to make a difference in the world, we have since started a permanent scholarship fund (established June 2017) that will award $1,000 to a graduating high school senior, male or female, who is using sports to make a difference in the local community.

Derek Braun

2015 MLS WORKS Community MVP Finalist

The Community MVP Program creates a community out of a sports team. [It’s] important in highlighting and honoring leaders in the community.

Mark Popsie Lewis

2016 MLS WORKS Community MVP Finalist

It’s always important to show appreciation to the people that aren’t necessarily looking for any recognition.

Jennifer Karps

2016 MLS WORKS Community MVP Finalist

I think we have an obligation to support our communities. The Community MVP Program enables individuals to make a greater impact than they could alone.

Karen Wright

2015 MLS WORKS Community MVP Grand Prize Winner

The Community MVP Program gets the word out about all the “everyday” people behind the scenes that really help make communities strong. We truly were just examples of the masses that also do what we do.

Robert Castaneda

2015 MLS WORKS Community MVP Finalist

I think it’s important for the sport of soccer at its highest level in the country to recognize the valuable work that people are doing on the ground every day trying to make a difference in our world through what unites us, soccer. It’s an important reminder that even though we may cheer for different teams, ultimately, we are all on the same team.

Charlie Bedard

2016 MLS WORKS Community MVP Finalist

…the monetary reward was valuable to our local soccer organization. Even though our fees to play organized soccer are quite low, there are many families who cannot afford even that. So, we established a scholarship fund to make sure that any child who wanted to play could play.

Lisa Stilgenbauer

2017 MLS WORKS Community MVP Finalist

I live in a small community that embraces other sports before soccer. From the newspaper articles and just word of mouth, the Community MVP Program introduced our area to the wonderful game of soccer.

PAST MVPs

BOBBY SAMRA
2013 WINNER
“There are many people who work hard to benefit others. This contest is a great way to recognize their unselfish work.”

BOBBY SAMRA

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC

Bobby Samra was chosen as Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s Community MVP for his work as an educator and soccer coach. He is a vice principal in Surrey, British Columbia and has coached soccer for over 25 years. He first started coaching right out of high school and fell in love with teaching and working with kids. Since then, he has coached soccer at every school he has been at and has even had former students return to help him.

Most recently, Bobby developed a soccer program with Central City Soccer Club and the Surrey School District for kids with mental health issues.

Bobby donated the money he won from the Community MVP contest to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a cause that is personally very important to him and his family.

BILL YOACHIM
2014 WINNER

BILL YOACHIM

Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Bill Yoachim of Nanaimo, British Colombia was chosen as Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s Community MVP for co-founding “Hope and Health,” a soccer-based organization that encourages and inspires kids to overcome adversity, in partnership with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

Bill works with indigenous Canadian children known as First Nations. He saw how many in the community struggled, and he co-created “Hope and Health” to provide support and inspiration for these kids to live healthier, more active lives.

KAREN WRIGHT
2015 WINNER
“It is wonderful that the Community MVP contest gets the word out about the “everyday” people behind the scenes that really help make communities strong. We truly were just examples of the masses that also do what we do.”

KAREN WRIGHT

Portland Timbers

Karen Wright was selected as the Portland Timbers Community MVP for founding the Yamhill Carlton Soccer Club (YCSC) in 2010, and growing the club from 14 local players to over 300 registered club members, and 25 registered coaches.

In 2014, over 4,000 hours were logged by more than 100 committed soccer volunteers of all ages for numerous charitable programs and events.

Karen used the money she won from the Community MVP contest to purchase youth soccer goals for their club matches. Today, the organization runs a wide number of programs, including a Free Toddler Fun Time for children and parents, High School and Academy program for older players, and free training programs for coaches.

STEPHEN SCHIRRA
2016 WINNER
“Unbeknownst to many, being in the charity field is often a thankless profession. We don't do the work that we do for any sort of accolades, we don't do it for recognition or fame, and money...well, we certainly don't do it for the money. Charity work is (and will always be) filled with its own share of ups and downs. And sometimes as a result you have to focus on the little triumphs because they are so often scattered few and far between immense failures and hardships.
But that's truly why programs like the Community MVP contest are so important. Because although we don't need any sort of affirmation or award to remind ourselves that the work we are doing is positively impacting others, sometimes we just need that little push...that little bit of motivation to keep fighting the good fight.”

STEPHEN SCHIRRA

NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION

At the age of 23, Stephen Schirra set out on a mission to use sport as a vehicle to create positive change and make a difference in the world. Merging his passion for travel and the game of soccer, Stephen decided to bring a ball with him wherever he went. What followed were stunning shots of him freestyling in front of famous landmarks and beautiful locales.

He started a blog called Around the Worlds, Around the World, and an Instagram account filled with gorgeous images from his travels. The name and his vision materialized into Around the Worlds, Around the World – a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching soccer to underprivileged children all over the world.

The money Stephen won from the Community MVP contest has allowed his organization to nearly double their impact. Today, they run successful programs in 23 countries, teaching the game of soccer to over 3,700 kids from 75+ different organizations. The organization continues to use their soccer program as a positive outlet for the kids they work with, who have all been thrust into trying circumstances since birth.

Knowing how important it was to recognize those using sports to make a difference in the world, Stephen’s organization has started a permanent scholarship fund (established June 2017) that will award $1,000 to a graduating high school senior, male or female, who is using sports to make a difference in the local community.

KEITH PALAU
2017 WINNER
“This whole experience will remain a highlight of my involvement as a Portland Timbers fan, a Timbers Army member, and someone who cares about members of our community who need a little extra love and support.”

KEITH PALAU

PORTLAND TIMBERS

A long-time leader in the charitable actions of the Timbers Army’s 107ist organization, Keith was nominated as the Timbers Community MVP after creating Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns FC-themed visitation rooms in the Oregon Department of Human Services offices to provide a welcoming and warm environment for foster children and their families. In just 48 hours, Keith raised over $8,500 for the project and received a major donation from La-Z-Boy Furniture.

Keith also organized a team of 93 volunteers, who dedicated nearly 800 hours of work toward the cleaning, priming, painting and staging of the visitation rooms at the Oregon Department of Human Services offices in Beaverton, Oregon.

Through the Community MVP contest, Keith was able to provide funds to Embrace Oregon, an organization that connects caring community members with vulnerable children and families. Embrace Oregon has been able to increase its bandwidth in community mobilization, volunteer initiatives and foster family recruitment, and the funds have allowed them to impact nearly 2,000 individuals: children in foster care, biological families, foster families, and Department of Human Services staff.

 

ADRIAN CONOBOY
2018 WINNER
“The MLS WORKS Community MVP contest was an unbelievable experience! I was blown away to be nominated…let alone win. With this donation we can continue to grow our charity and support children and young adults affected by cancer through the power of soccer. Thank you to everyone who voted, and to Major League Soccer, Wells Fargo and everyone at New York City FC. Together…We Can Kick It!”

ADRIAN CONOBOY

New York City FC

In 2016, Conoboy was diagnosed with brain cancer. During his time in the hospital, he was touched by the kids around him also battling this journey and decided to use this unfortunate turn of events to do good in his community.

Conoboy founded We Can Kick It, a nonprofit that provides free soccer programs to kids and young adults, ages 6-18, affected by cancer. Their soccer community is based in the New York metropolitan area and their mission is to expand throughout the United States, helping those affected by cancer everywhere.

STEVEN CRUZ
2019 WINNER

STEVEN CRUZ

From a young age, Steven has been traveling to El Salvador where he would spend his summers in his mother’s hometown – a rural community called Los Amates. Despite not having much in common with the children in this community Steven saw that there was a common language they all spoke – it was soccer. Soccer brought him closer to the children in Los Amates, and Steven witnessed the disparities the children endured on a daily basis: limited water, lack of education, and severe poverty.

As Steven grew older and continued visiting his mother’s hometown, he saw the children he once played soccer with were now involved with the local gang. Unfortunately, gang recruitment and violence is very prevalent in communities of Central America.

Unwilling to allow this image to define the people of this community, Steven started Academia de Futbol Juvenil Amatense (AFJA), a LA-based non-profit that recycles any lightly worn soccer equipment and builds sustainable soccer academies in Central America.

Since starting AFJA, a total of three soccer academies have been established. Each student enrolled must abide to three requirements – good academic standing, attendance, and community service. The implementation of requirements has positively impacted the children in these communities. Within the last two years, AFJA has seen a large portion of students are moving on to higher education (where normally, many of the children would not go past fourth grade).

2020 CMVPs