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By Lisa Moore
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
Last weekend, Wellesley United Soccer Club hosted the sixth annual 24 Hours of Soccer in Wellesley. This event, which is run by volunteers each year, is a fundraiser to support Grassroot Soccer, Inc., a non-profit organization that uses the common love of soccer to empower, inspire, and educate communities to stop the spread of HIV in Africa.
Founded in 2002, GRS has been dedicated to helping young people in developing countries to live healthier lives. GRS believes that young people have tremendous potential to create change and have positive lasting impact in overcoming their greatest health challenges. In most countries outside the US, soccer is the most popular sport. Young people in Africa look up to their favorite players and coaches as role models, or as someone they aspire to be like. Grassroot Soccer has tapped into the love of soccer, and has been using it to connect young people with mentors, information, and health services to empower them to make healthy choices about serious health challenges such as HIV, AIDS, sexual health, gender-based violence, and malaria.
GRS uses evidence-based programs and trained coaches that incorporate soccer into dynamic lessons about health and wellness, engaging young people in useful discussions that help to break down cultural barriers to health and wellness.
For 24 hours, people came, donned shirts in yellow and green (the colors of the flag of the African Union) and went barefoot to play soccer like most youth in Africa play it. Some stayed for only a short time while others stayed for the full 24 hours, but all were dedicated to helping raise awareness and funds in support of Grassroot Soccer and its mission. This year, Alison Witt, Isabelle Hartnet, Julia Francis, Cooper Richards, and Sophie Kressy led the charge in organizing the event. Many local businesses supported the event, providing food, beverages, and funds to help the attendees make it through the night. Each participant payed a $25 fee to participate, and thanks to a partnership with Positive Tracks, a philanthropic organization that helps youth “turn sweat into civic action,” every dollar raised will be matched.
Alisson Witt, a rising senior and member of the Wellesley High School Women’s Soccer team, checked in new players as they arrived to play. For the first few hours, there was a steady contingent of players keeping a game going, but larger crowds were expected for the evening. “It’s a very rewarding experience to see the event build up from all the planning which started in January to today. It is a fun event for all ages.” said Witt. Last year, the event raised $4,700 and this year organizers hope to raise $5,000 to be matched by Positive Tracks. Anyone interested in making a donation or learning more about how to support this important cause can visit www.grassrootsoccer.org.