How do you turn a passion for soccer and travel into a career? If you’re Stephen Schirra ’14 (CLAS), you create your own nonprofit, “Around the Worlds, Around the World,” teaching underprivileged children across the globe how to play soccer.
What started as a photo-based travel blog has evolved into an internationally recognized charity, recently picking up a Community MVP Award from Major League Soccer. For the spark that became Around the Worlds, Schirra credits his extracurricular time at UConn, playing club soccer and volunteering in the surrounding community.
Stephen Schirra ’14 (CLAS) in Bahía de Caráquez, Manabí, Ecuador, in April of 2016. At each stop, Schirra leaves the kids with soccer balls so they can keep the game going.
(Photo courtesy Stephen Schirra)
“The community outreach we participated in as a team made me look at soccer as more than just a game — as not just a sport but rather a platform to inspire others. Mentoring inner-city kids at a school in Hartford and working with Special Olympics athletes, it all just really cemented in my mind that soccer had the potential to be used for a much greater purpose,” says Schirra. At the time, he says he could not have imagined those interests becoming a career. However, just one year after graduating, Schirra began leading free soccer clinics at orphanages and schools in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
The work, he says, is at turns fascinating, rewarding, and heartbreaking. He has seen soccer transcend barriers built by language, religion, and class and act as a universal language that connects him to the children he meets. He says their pure passion for playing the game, and gratitude for a break from past or present struggles, shines through in his clinics. “The coolest thing has been seeing the smiles and genuine happiness on their faces when they have a ball at their feet. I know that look because it’s the same one I had whenever I played soccer at that age, and it’s the one I still get nowadays when I have an opportunity to play,” he says.
“For some, soccer might mean opportunity — opportunity to break away from poverty, using the sport as an outlet,” he says. A young orphan named Gabriel, whom Schirra worked with in the Dominican Republic, recently received a soccer scholarship at his new school. Despite all the recognition and accolades his nonprofit has received, Schirra calls that his biggest triumph to date.
— Nicole Haiber ’17 (CLAS)