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YYY: Sacramento Man Earns Spot on National Street Soccer Team

Sacramento Man Earns Spot on National Street Soccer Team

 Homeward Street Journal (USA) 28 May 2019

(Originally published: 09/2009) 31-year-old Sacramento resident and America corps employee, Wes Colter, is heading to Milan, Italy, to represent the United States at the 2009 Homeless World Cup. A graduate of the ‘Volunteers of America’ program for homeless individuals, Colter will compete against 50 nations from across the globe for the right to be crowned soccer’s Homeless World Cup champions. However, as Homeward Street Journal’s Barry Wisdom discovers, helping the USA to the trophy will always rank below the seemingly insurmountable challenges Colter has already overcome.  - Barry Wisdom

Homeward Street Journal

Courtesy of Homeward Street Journal

SACRAMENTO, USA - Wes Colter calls it the biggest thing that ever happened to him. The 31-year-old AmeriCorps employee - a graduate of two successive Volunteers of America-operated programs for homeless individuals - is headed to Milan, Italy in September to represent the United States at soccer's Homeless World Cup. He joins players from: New York; Charlotte, N.C.; Minneapolis; Los Angeles; and San Francisco.

Colter, who graduated from a transitional housing/job-training program in May, was named goalkeeper for the eight-man U.S. team at the close of the Street Soccer USA Cup tournament, held July 31 through Aug. 2 in Washington, D.C., where his Sacramento teammates - all formerly homeless men - were honored with the Ray Bernedbei Trophy for Fair Play.

Distinguished by their exemplary sportsmanship and passionate play (as well as their matching "Mohawk" hair styles), the six-man Sacramento team - five of whom are current students or graduates of the same program Colter completed earlier this year - finished this month's event in 10th place among 16 teams culled from across the country.

"I didn't think I would be chosen, but I definitely was hoping I would," said the 31-year-old Colter, who currently works with AmeriCorps' Restoring Youth and Communities project, which calls on juvenile offenders to assess needs in their community and take positive action through community service. One of his clients in the program, Vince Flores, became Colter's teammate on Sacramento's Street Soccer USA squad.

It's a job that holds special meaning for Colter, who spent most of his adolescence and much of his adult life in trouble with the law due to drug and alcohol abuse. In his last jail stint some four years ago, Colter says he hit bottom and realized it was time to make a change.

"I just got tired of going to prison - I just realized I was much smarter than someone who would waste his life in prison," said Colter. "I grew up being bussed to a GATE program for gifted kids. But my father was an alcoholic and my sister and I were neglected - we weren't taught the kinds of things kids are normally taught when they're young."

The cycle continued for him, Colter said - fathering two children for whom he wasn't there.  "My thoughts were consumed by drugs and alcohol," he said.

While serving his last sentence, he reached out for help to deal with his abandonment and addiction issues and began searching for a recovery program he could enter upon his release. He ultimately found Volunteers of America. "That's where I really started addressing my drug and alcohol issues," Colter said. Soon he found his first legitimate job, began attending 12-step programs, found a sponsor and, following successful completion of his entry into Volunteers of America's continuum of care, he was accepted into the two-year transitional housing and job-training program he credits for his current success.

Thanks to the skills he developed there, Colter found work as a mobile electronics installer, and then at AmeriCorps. When he completes his current AmeriCorps assignment, he plans to return to school to become a drug and alcohol counselor.

Chris Mann, a Volunteers of America staff member who has coached Colter and his Street Soccer USA teammates since forming the group in November 2008, says Colter's selection for the national team - set to compete in Italy Sept. 6 through 13 - was a no-brainer: "It really wasn't that surprising to me, because he has great character - he's perfect for it."

Street Soccer USA founder and CEO Lawrence Cann agrees.

"He was one of our top choices," said Cann. "He'll serve as a great ambassador for people who struggle with homelessness and poverty. We were pleased that Wes could make it."

"The poise and maturity of the 2009 SSUSA National team will challenge popular opinions of who the homeless are and what they are capable of," said Cann. "These players are a testimony to the human spirit and to the great work our growing network of programs does across the nation, on a daily basis. And get ready to be surprised when you see them in action, too - these players are seriously talented athletes."

The SSUSA National team will convene in New York on Sept. 1 for practices and events before they depart for Milan. A scrimmage with the U.S. team and a New York-based team of soccer celebrities will take place on Sept. 3, before the players - including Colter - depart for Milan on Sept. 4.

"I believe Wes exemplifies what all people in our field hope for," Mann said, "and that is to be a light for people to make life-changing decisions through programs like ours. Sports through Volunteers of America has been a great catalyst in his development from incarceration to self-sufficiency. He is not only captain of our soccer team, he has organized softball teams and was a youth leader. He is as great as an example of a recovery success that I have worked with in my 12 years with Volunteers of America."

"Our goal is to make people aware of Volunteers of America and to spread the word that we have amazing programs at Volunteers of America," said Mann of his desire to get involved with Lawrence Cann's inspirational concept of social change through soccer. "Since we started the original Sacramento team in November, five have gotten jobs and the others are in school - and all six have quit smoking."

Colter said he is extremely happy about his upcoming trip to Milan to compete in the Homeless World Cup, but even more excited about the prospect of being able to share his firsthand knowledge that people can change given the opportunity. "Some of our society has a 'Once a criminal, always a criminal,' or a 'Once a dope fiend, always a dope fiend' mentality. But people can - and do - change for the better."

About Volunteers of America Greater Sacramento & Northern Nevada

Established locally in 1911, the Greater Sacramento & Northern Nevada affiliate of Volunteers of America is one of the largest providers of social services in the region, operating programs dedicated to ending homelessness, supporting the most vulnerable populations and transforming communities. Each night, Volunteers of America Greater Sacramento & Northern Nevada provides housing for as many as 1,800 men, women and children in its service communities. For more information, see VolunteersofAmerica-sac.org, or call 916.442.3691. Established locally in 1911, the Greater Sacramento & Northern Nevada affiliate of Volunteers of America is one of the largest providers of social services in the region, operating programs dedicated to ending homelessness, supporting the most vulnerable populations and transforming communities. Each night, Volunteers of America Greater Sacramento & Northern Nevada provides housing for as many as 1,800 men, women and children in its service communities. For more information, see VolunteersofAmerica-sac.org, or call 916.442.3691.

About Street Soccer USA/HELP USA

Founded by Lawrence Cann in Charlotte, N.C., in 2004, Street Soccer USA (www.streetsoccerusa.org) is a sports-based organization focused on eradicating homelessness and poverty via onsite soccer programs and community building at social service agencies and homeless shelters across the nation. Under the auspices of its parent organization, HELP USA (www.helpusa.org), Street Soccer USA presents the annual Street Soccer USA Cup, which brings together the 16-team league composed of homeless men and women across the United States for three days of competition and camaraderie. The top eight players at the SSUSA Cup, who exemplify leadership, sportsmanship, and skill both on and off the field, go on to represent the United States in the 48-nation Homeless World Cup. For more on Street Soccer USA, go to StreetSoccerUSA.org, or call Lawrence Cann, founder and CEO, at 646.385.1714.

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