Major League Soccer and Wells Fargo today announced the 26 Community MVPs that were selected for making a positive impact during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fans throughout the soccer community had the opportunity to nominate themselves or individuals who have provided critical services, including healthcare professionals, social workers, teachers, first responders and many other essential workers keeping our communities resilient and safe.
Through the 2020 MLS WORKS Community MVPs Program presented by Wells Fargo, $65,000 USD will be donated to charity on behalf of each Community MVP, one representing each MLS club, for going above and beyond to serve their communities during these challenging times. Each Community MVP will receive a donation to a 501(c)(3) charity of their choice, a customized adidas MLS jersey and an MLS adidas 2020 NATIVO XXV Official Match Ball.
Please see below to learn more on our incredible honorees. Fans are also encouraged to visit MLSsoccer.com/CommunityMVP for additional information on this year’s Community MVPs.
- Vancouver Whitecaps FC – Jesse Symons: Jesse Symons, head coach of the University of British Columbia (UBC) women’s soccer team, is an incredible example of a community leader - which was amplified through his personal effort to give back this year. As soccer programs began to shut down in Vancouver due to the pandemic, Symons immediately looked at existing virtual soccer programs with local non-profit youth organization Hope and Health Society to find ways of making them more interactive. He recruited UBC student athletes to participate and run the Hope and Health H3 program, an eight-week campaign that engaged nearly 30 Indigenous youth from seven remote communities in province of British Columbia. The program was a huge success, helping participants improve their soccer skills while providing opportunities to build relationships and engage with others in a safe way. Vancouver Whitecaps FC also supported the H3 program through player appearances and mascot Spike joining in on the fun.
- Atlanta United – Ulric Alsobrook: Ulric Alsobrook serves as Program Manager, Southside for Atlanta United community partner Soccer in the Streets. He has led Southside youth programs through various projects including the Slices and Strikes project, working with a local community partner to provide hot meals and soccer balls to youth players. Additionally, Alsobrook lead virtual forums for youth, focused on important topics including the Black Lives Matter movement. The forums helped youth players understand what is happening in the world while creating a safe space to ask questions. Most recently, Alsobrook started a homework helpline to provide youth players an extra support system outside virtual school.
- Chicago Fire – Kim Pehlke: For more than a decade, Kim Pehlke has been a leader at Special Olympics Illinois Unified, while working full-time as a special education teacher at Metea Valley High School in Aurora, Ill. Pehlke has served as Athletic Director, Coach and Youth Leadership Mentor, helping expand the program across the state. More than 1,000 high school students have been impacted by the Youth Leadership Certification, an initiative that Pehlke developed through Special Olympics Illinois and the Illinois High School Association, allowing students the opportunity to teach leadership skills to their peers for use both on and off the field.
- FC Cincinnati – Kent Wellington: Kent Wellington started mentoring vulnerable kids in Cincinnati over 25 years ago and continues to dedicate his life to helping provide opportunities for at risk youth in the Cincinnati area through an organization called Saturday Hoops. Wellington founded the Karen Wellington Foundation for LIVING with Breast Cancer (KWF) in 2007, in memory of his late wife, Karen Wellington. KWF sends women and families living with cancer on special vacations, spa days and other fun-only activities, including group outings to FC Cincinnati matches. In addition to giving back in the community, Kent works full-time as an attorney.
- Colorado Rapids – Koeun Kelly: When the pandemic started, Koeun Kelly wanted to give back to her community and also find a way to help those with disabilities during this difficult time. As a master seamstress of 30 years, Kelly sewed and donated more than 1,000 high-quality, filtered masks to individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities, along with their families and caregivers. The disabled community is of great importance to Kelly as her son Tyler, a former soccer player, was left paralyzed from the shoulders down due to a car accident several years ago. Tyler’s injury was also the inspiration behind Kelly’s business, Accessible Alterations, where she specializes in alterations for the disabled community.
- Columbus crew – Suzie Gerhardt: Suzie Gerhardt is a school district Food Services Director who has made immeasurable contributions to feed the children in her community during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March of 2020, Gerhardt’s school district shut down, leaving many students and families worried where meals would come from. Within 72 hours, Gerhardt assembled a team to distribute meals in her community. From March 16 to June 22, Gerhardt purchased supplies, mobilized volunteers, and organized mobile meal deliveries to bring more than 105,000 meals to kids – many who did not know where their next meal was coming from amidst the pandemic.
- FC Dallas – Heather Canterbury: Frisco Fastpacs Executive Director, Heather Canterbury delivers meals to all 72 Frisco Independent School District campuses for more than 1,400 children to ensure they do not go hungry when school is not in session. During the pandemic, Canterbury and her team of volunteers worked around the clock to ensure that Frisco ISD students still received their meals even though they weren’t attending classes in person. Canterbury organized meal distribution sites at school campuses across Frisco. Families who qualified were able to collect their meals through a contact-free drive-through pickup sites to receive their meals. Canterbury has doubled-down on fundraising efforts for Frisco FastPacs in order to provide meals to local students who desperately need assistance in this challenging time.
- DC United – Zain Habboo: Zain Habboo and her Jordanian-American family live in Chevy Chase, Md, just outside of Washington, D.C. In 2015, Habboo’s youngest son Rakan was diagnosed with a very rare strain of pediatric cancer and received treatment at Children’s National Hospital. During their time at the hospital, Rakan started a fundraiser, which raised $25,000 in just one week. The resources from his fundraiser were used to outfit every room on the Oncology floor with built-in Nintendo gaming systems. Rakan lost his battle to cancer at just six-years-old. To date, Habboo and her family have raised over $130,000 to find a cure for pediatric cancer. This year, in honor of what would have been Rakan’s tenth birthday, the family created a social media fundraiser that was able to raise more than $25,000.
- Houston Dynamo – Taneshu Collier: Taneshu Collier and her husband to give back to at risk youth in the Houston community. After her son passed away in 2010, she was determined to make a difference in the lives of children by providing them a safe haven, thus creating TRELS Home for Children’s Emergency Shelter. Despite the need for safe havens increasing during the pandemic, many agencies had to close their doors or limit capacities, thus leaving many children with no place to go. TRELS Home for Children remained open to help many children despite the pandemic.
- LAFC – Celia Ward–Wallace: Celia, and her husband Joe, started the South LA Café – a community space to take pride in the history, legacy, and future of the South-Central Community. Celia and Joe’s commitment to bring the same quality food and drinks found in other neighborhoods to the South LA community has made them a central hub in the community. During the pandemic, South LA café partnered with LAFC and the LAFC Foundation to execute a grocery box program that supported food access in South Los Angeles. This partnership conducted two grocery box donations at South LA Cafe, providing over 300 boxes of fresh produce to families in need.
- LA Galaxy – Vitelo “Vito” Aguilar: Vitelo “Vito” Aguilar dedicates his time as the Regional Membership Director for the Los Angeles County Medical Association. Aguilar, through his work with AFJA, provided programming and resources to youth who participate in their soccer programming. With many programs shutting down in response to the pandemic, Aguilar helped lead virtual engagement opportunities. As a single father of beautiful twin boys, he is passionate to provide access to soccer for children in at risk communities.
- Inter Miami – Jose Benchimol: In April of 2020, Jose Benchimol and his wife tragically lost their son, Sholem, in a biking accident. Sholem was a rising soccer star and had dreams of playing professionally. In his memory, Jose and his family started Sholem Corazon Valiente, a non-profit to enhance athletic and emotional intelligence development amongst children. The organization also provides scholarships to children for soccer. The academy they partner with is an Israeli team that does not have programming on Saturdays so players can observe Shabbat. In response to the pandemic, Benchimol organized food donation in Miami and abroad and has started to create virtual programming for youth soccer players.
- Minnesota United – Shane O’Rourke: Shane O’Rourke is the founder of LiftUp, a non-profit that gives away 100% of donations. Through LiftUp, donations are sent to certified projects throughout the Minneapolis community, as well as around the world. O’Rourke and LiftUP were one of the first to respond with cleanup crews and food donations to help rebuild Minneapolis. As people learned about the work O’Rourke has done, they have joined LiftUp and raised additional funds for the community. This year, LiftUp was able to provide 20 beds for children and raised more than $25,000 to feed children in the Minneapolis area.
- Montreal Impact – Nathalie Bouchard: Nathalie Bouchard is currently the director of the Centre de ressources et d’action communautaire de La Petite-Patrie (CRACPP), an organization based in Montreal that contributes to the fight against poverty and food waste. Thanks to Bouchard’s work, the CRACPP is today considered a benchmark in the neighborhood for its work surrounding food insecurity, and it continues to inspire many beyond the Petite-Patrie community. Bouchard stepped up despite increase risk in the pandemic and limited resources and lead her team to answer every food request in the community. Through the efforts of Bouchard and her team, the CRACPP was able to hand out more than 3,400 free food aid baskets, produce 6,000+ prepared meals, and redistribute almost 75 tons of canned goods since March.
- Nashville SC – Dr. Alex Jahangir: Alex Jahangir, MD, is an associate professor of orthopedic surgery and an orthopedic trauma surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. On March 14, Dr. Jahangir was appointed to head Nashville’s Metro Coronavirus Task Force from his role as the chairman of the city board of health. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, he has joined city officials at the daily press briefings as the medical expert in guiding the medical perspective. He currently serves as the Director of the Division of Orthopedic Trauma at VUMC and Executive Medical Director of the Vanderbilt Center for Trauma, Burn, and Emergency Surgery. Dr. Jahangir is also cofounder of the Vanderbilt Orthopedic Institute Center for Health Policy.
- New England Revolution – Stephanie Frazier-Grimm: Stephanie Frazier Grimm is the founder of the Confetti Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides birthday celebrations to children hospitalized, in hospice facilities, and in outpatient oncology clinics. Frazier-Grimm founded the Confetti Foundation in January 2014 and has since celebrated more than 10,200 birthdays. While these parties are not a cure, they are a welcomed distraction and a chance for children and their families to forget about their illness for a short time.
- NYCFC – Heather Butts: Heather Butts is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Healthcare and Public Administration at LIU Post and the co-founder or H.E.A.L.T.H for Youths, Inc., a nonprofit organization which focuses on college readiness and preparation. Butts’ organization partners with 53 programs each year to help more than 4,000 students achieve their dream of going to college. During the pandemic, her organization worked on dozens of projects to help the community including: turning little free libraries into food pantries; getting resources to under privileged families; organizing several community gardening programs producing harvests and beautification projects; partnering with other community organizations on “The Clementine Collective” to get fresh produce into neighborhood corner stores. She also collaborated with NYCFC on multiple projects including converting live soccer programming into virtual soccer programs; collaborating on a 10-week RoboSoccer build and coding class; working on a multi-week resume writing campaign for youth, and helping to run a gaming tournament for youth.
- New York Red Bulls – Jackie Baras: Jackie Baras is a transgender woman and a Quality Nurse Manager of Perioperative Services and Clinical Anesthesia Manager. Baras is a respected Nurse Leader and TransRights advocate in her community. She is recognized as one of the most dynamic speakers, resource experts and leaders in Nursing and the LGBTQIA community. Baras established the first LGBTQIA hospital based primary care clinic called PROUD Family Health in Somerset, NJ and launched the first education and support group for LGBTQIA teens. During the pandemic, Baras made sure that LGBTQIA youth were not forgotten, working with the local foodbank to provide meals and collect essential items.
- Orlando City – Shanta Barton-Stubbs: In 2004, 21-year-old Shanta Barton-Stubbs saw a need to support youth in a neighborhood where violent crime, drug abuse, and homelessness are commonplace. That first summer, she started with 8 youths, $1,500 of her personal savings, and a handful of used board games. Today, New Image Youth Center is a consistent presence in the lives of youth who often lack stability. Through the dedication of her staff and volunteers, they provide year-round services to students of all ages, and have helped many of their center graduates achieve their dreams of going to college. Programming continued despite the pandemic, with Shanta and her staff finding unique and safe ways to engage youth in the community.
- Philadelphia Union – Nancy Craskey: Nancy Craskey is the Director of Development at CityTeam Chester. CityTeam provides help and hope to Chester, PA neighbors in need with hot meals, groceries, shelter, housing, and restorative programs, learning and career help, and more. Through Nancy and CityTeam’s hard work, more than 4,000 Chester residents are served annually. When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Philadelphia, Craskey kept open lines of communication through social media channels to make local residents aware of CityTeam's emergency food box distribution and new system for dinner pick up. With food insecurity at an all-time high during the COVID-19 pandemic onset, Craskey and her team stepped up when the community needed them most.
- Portland Timbers – Darius Jones: Darius Yaw Jones is an African American and Indigenous Navy veteran using his life and career experience to improve the lives of Portlanders every day. Prior to the pandemic, Jones was working as a butcher at Urban Farmer at The Nines Hotel as well as running his popup, Wishbone Kitchen. With COVID-19 effectively shutting down Portland's restaurant industry, Jones was brought in by Catholic Charities Portland to source, cook, and distribute food to those in our city who need it most. Through St. Francis Dining Hall, Jones and team serve more than ten thousand warm meals and food boxes to veterans, people experiencing homelessness, and the migrant worker communities. Jones’ work ethic, focus on community, and emphasis on eliminating food waste is an inspiration to everyone around him.
- Real Salt Lake – Mylo Fowler: Mylo Fowler grew up on The Navajo Reservation in Southern, Utah. On the Reservation, many families do not have a reliable source of light or power in their homes. Fowler has been installing solar light and power on homes for families on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations. The light and power helps them with necessary household tasks, and allows them to work after the sun goes down to stay at comparable levels with their peers in work and schooling. When the pandemic hit, Fowler knew the focus needed to shift and he saw the need to help young Navajo students adjust to distance learning. With the help of several partners, including the RSL Foundation, Fowler arranged to have thousands of distance learning kits put together and delivered to students on the Reservation in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. These kits included classroom supplies, stem activities, hand sanitizers, age-appropriate books, and a solar lantern to allow students to work, even after the sun goes down.
- San Jose Earthquakes – William “Ewell” Sterner: As a 30-year hospitality executive, William “Ewell” Sterner founded Hunger at Home in 2008 in San Diego and later reactivated the nonprofit in 2015 after moving to San Jose. Hunger at Home partners with local convention centers, hotels, and sports stadiums throughout Silicon Valley to collect excess food and goods. Those items are distributed to hungry and homeless individuals through a robust nonprofit network. To date, Hunger at Home has donated 3.5 million meals locally and helped distribute much needed goods like towels, blankets, kitchen items, and hygiene kits. When the pandemic hit, Sterner led his team to meet the increased need in the community. Hunger at Home is committed to supporting the local community, including hosting food distribution at Earthquakes Stadium.
- Seattle Sounders – Dr. Julie McCleery: Dr. Julie McCleery, with the University of WA Center for Leadership in Athletics, spearheaded, fundraised for, and managed the King County State of Play Study last year. This effort initiated a regional commitment to reimagine youth sport and address inequities in youth access to physical activity through sports, free play, and outdoor recreation. Seattle Sounders FC and RAVE Foundation are inspired by her leadership, commitment and the collective action taking place now in Seattle and surrounding areas as a direct result of these efforts. Thanks to her leadership, the Seattle region is thoughtfully planning an equitable return to play as youth sports, halted due to the pandemic, get re-introduced in playfields and community centers throughout our region. Through many initiatives led by Dr. McCleery, the King County Play Equity Coalition is championing a drastic shift for social transformation in youth sports, directly addressing inequities due to systemic racism.
- Sporting Kansas City – Brooke Wiens: Brooke Wiens has served the North Kansas City School District for more than 17 years as an educator. This year, her role as a teacher of English Language Learners at Crestview Elementary, the most diverse public school in the state of Missouri, took on increased importance amidst the challenging circumstances surrounding COVID-19 and the transition to virtual learning. Wien's leadership and dedication was evident from day one as she embodied the school's motto of "whatever it takes." With more than 500 students no longer coming to school, Wiens built a bookmobile in the back of her vehicle to not only deliver books to their homes, but also to deliver instruction via socially-distanced tutoring and reading in their driveways.
- Toronto FC – Lael Hillis: Lael Hillis is a Nurse Practitioner in Markham, Ontario (Greater Toronto Area), who services nursing homes in the Markham area. During the pandemic, Hillis worked long hours taking care of her young family at home and working on the front lines, testing senior patients for COVID-19, and instituting new training and safety procedures in some of the hardest hit nursing homes. Beyond her medical responsibilities, Hillis took the extra time to talk with senior patients who were isolated from their families and loved ones. Hillis went above and beyond, compromising her own health and safety, to help protect some of our most vulnerable members of society.