On the heels of successful donation drives for household supplies, clothes, and preseason tickets, the Timbers Army is in the midst of yet another effort for IRCO, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization. Myself, Kyle “Caterjunes” Jones, and Michelle “Bella” DeFord had each been volunteering on an individual basis with IRCO prior to getting the TA involved, with Kyle and I helping kids with homework on Saturday mornings and Michelle coordinating several donation drives. Joining forces, we asked IRCO what else the TA could do for them. The staff told us that the kids have a soccer team but nowhere to play when it’s cold and wet outside, to which we thought, what better use of our charitable funds than to get kids playing soccer?
Thanks to the dogged efforts of Kyle, we finally secured a court at Rose City Futsal for 90 minutes every Saturday in March and April. As word of our latest endeavor got around, we were approached by an anonymous donor who wished to purchase new shoes for every kid. Michelle got a list of shoe sizes and the next thing we knew, eight bags full of shoeboxes arrived at the Fanladen.
As fate would have it, their first session was on March 4th, the day after the home opener, and next to the court where TAFC was playing a friendly against Minnesota United’s Dark Clouds and True North Elite supporters groups. After putting on their new shoes, the IRCO kids ran through training drills and played intrasquad games for their allotted time with their coach, Jared Hoffman from AC Portland who has graciously donated his time every weekend.
Photos by Scott Jeffries
Then came one of the most moving displays I’ve ever seen as a Timbers fan. TAFC and Dark Clouds, realizing they had their court for half an hour longer than IRCO, spontaneously stopped their game and invited the kids over to come play with them. As the kids entered, the adults applauded them onto the court, they intermingled teams, Portland and Minnesota, kids and adults, immigrants and citizens, for one big friendly match. With too many players to go around, another match spilled out onto the empty court next door. Many more simply watched, not a dry eye among them.
Photo by Ray Terrill
The kids have come back twice since then and news has certainly traveled, with a larger turnout and several new faces each week. This past weekend saw 24 players and they are quickly outgrowing their small space, but as the weather slowly improves, they will head outdoors. The team is training to compete in the annual Portland World Cup Tournament, organized by Portland Parks and Recreation every summer, scheduled this year for July 21st and 22nd, sadly the weekend of Vancouver away, for which this writer has already booked travel plans, but those who are staying behind should mark their calendars to show up in support.
You can also show your support by purchasing a "Refugees Welcome" scarf here. All proceeds go to IRCO.
It’s been a great few months helping these kids and their families, but we’re not about to stop here. We have two more initiatives in the works right now: finding a coach for a new girls’ team (which we may well have as I write this!) and helping some of the kids pay club soccer dues. As we watch an 18-year-old high school senior from Gresham playing on the first team and I see how talented some of these IRCO kids are, I can’t help but imagine one of them taking the field someday as our next homegrown player and remembering how it all started.
Photo by Ray Terrill