Today is the Presidents Day Indoor Soccer Tournament at the Sportsplex sports facility in Half Moon, N.Y. Maria and I will be there (I'm leaving Red, the team mascot, behind, as it may be crowded and some people are afraid of dogs). It's a big day for the team, and also for me.
It's surprise day for Ali and the team. We are giving each player on the soccer team a snazzy Nike Brasilia Equipment Bag with their name stenciled on it, and I'm giving Ali a megaphone (see video) with a siren on it. He will definitely be able to get the kid's attention whenever he needs to. I think Ali will love it, I demonstrated it for the video above, Maria took the video.
A lot of people contributed to this day. The Army Of Good has supported the team and purchased their new uniforms. We have also paid for practice time on indoor courts (Thanks, Kevin Smith of Sportsplex for the discounts on time and food).
The stencils on the Nike bags were done by WickedSmartApparel of Watervliet, New York, one of the country's top sports apparel suppliers. The team name is in white, the kids name in teal.
Thanks Todd Van Epps, the owner of Wicked Smart, a supporter of the RISSE (Refugee and Immigrant Support Center of the Emmaus Methodist Church in Albany) soccer team and also the new RISSE girl's basketball team being organized now.
And, of course, Ali, who has devoted much of his life to supporting these children. They are from everywhere, including some very troubled countries – most from Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, and Africa. They have endured a great deal to get to America, and are struggling to assimilate in America at a time when their very presence is suddenly controversial.
Ali has committed himself to watching over these boys and girls, he is available to them seven days a week, day or night. They love him dearly and thanks to him, I believe they will succeed in their struggle to acclimate to American life.
They and Ali and I are deeply touched by the love and support they have received from people who represent the true heart and soul of America, a generous and welcoming country. Ali and I have told them the hostility they sometimes face and hear about is a phase, and will pass.
I believe that.
People from all over America have showered RISSE with good winter clothes, sweaters, jackets and shoes, games and toys. RISSE is working on a new Amazon Wish List, to go up shortly.
The kids at RISSE – they have a large after school program – always need clothes and toys and school supplies.
So today is a big moment for the hard-working, close-knit soccer team. Soccer is important in their countries, where they usually played barefoot and in back yards or empty fields.
Americans play soccer differently, the game here is richly supported by parents. They play against suburban teams with lots of money and community support – lots of coaches, players, fancy shoes, expensive uniforms, the best equipment.
The uniforms we got them – they call themselves the "Bedlam Farm Warriors From RISSE" help balance the scale, and I hope to continue to support the soccer and basketball teams in this way.
That means uniforms and equipment, food after practice, and sometimes, some emergency help with clothes. I also try to help the refugee kids take special classes they might need, especially in language, finances and computing.
If you wish to help support this project, you can donate to my refugee fund, send checks to Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, [email protected] And thanks.
I have to go pick up the uniforms and then go to the tournament. See you later.