Being a Part of Something Bigger


AYSO VIP player attacking to the goal. Photo by: Jericho Callender

Jericho Callender, Staff

This past fall, I volunteered in the America Youth Soccer Organization VIP program. The VIP program is for children who have special needs or disabilities such as partial blindness and autism. This opportunity was provided through the National Honor Society at Huntington Beach High School. Volunteers, also called “Buddies,” would attend almost all practices and games. “The program impacted me tremendously as I felt as if I learned more about myself through helping others,” says Ryley Barry, one of my fellow volunteers. We were making a positive impact on the kids’ lives and learning new things about ourselves, as well.

AYSO VIP Buddies on game day. Photo by: Jim Solis

It was heartwarming to see the kids so excited about game day and being able to play with their friends. The head coach of Region 143, Coach Jim Solis, says his favorite part of the program is game day. He explains, “I call it a ‘love fest’ seeing the interactions of typical players with our special players. Looking around the entire field, seeing smiles on everyone’s faces, including the parents from all families.” It was truly incredible to see how a simple activity like soccer could make such a big impact on so many people.

Riptide giving high fives to the opposing team after a big win. Photo by: Ryan Flory

I remember the first game we had of the season. The other Buddies and I were done setting up the field so we started talking, and some of the kids began to show up. They were in their Riptide team uniforms and they gave each other big hugs. We all were making comments about how adorable they were. I looked at my friend Ryan Flory, and she began shedding tears of happiness. I started to laugh, thinking about how absurd we looked, crying at a youth soccer field, but I honestly felt the same emotions. It reminded me of how fortunate I am to have my good health and have the opportunity to help kids in my community.

Through this program, a small family was created. The parents would sit on the side of the field at practices, watching their kids play games and scrimmage the volunteers and coaches. Sometimes the parents would join the coaches to play against their kids. It was fun to watch how determined the players were to bet their parents. These kids would not let their physical condition get in their way. They had a passion to play soccer and loved that they could do what they enjoyed with their friends.

AYSO VIP player receiving pass from teammate during first game of San Clemente tournament. Photo by: Jericho Callender

Towards the end of the season, the team traveled out to San Clemente for a day tournament. All VIP teams from different regions came together to compete. Food and games were available for the kids to enjoy in between games. These were the only games of the season that the kids got the opportunity to play against other VIP teams. The kids easily made friends with players on the opposing team. By the expressions on the players’ faces, you could tell the joy the whole experience brought them. After the games, awards were presented to the kids, which was such a great way to close out the day. The time spent in San Clemente was worth every second.

I originally joined this program to get experience with kids and make a difference in the community, however, I received so much more. I built connections with the kids, made so many great memories, and more importantly, learned the power a community can have. The support and joy that I observed on the field was overwhelming. The opposing teams were very understanding, kind, and genuinely had fun playing with our team. 

AYSO VIP player kicking the ball during penalty kicks. Photo by: Jericho Callender

Coach Jim shares that he “started in the VIP program as just a parent,” but after he saw the impact it had on his daughter, he wanted to continue with the program and get more involved. He says, “After the first season, it gave her purpose to start walking, without her wheelchair!” As shown, this program changes the lives of the children and their parents. They get to sit two hours a week and watch their kids have a blast playing soccer. The AYSO VIP program is so much more than just a soccer team; it is an opportunity for the community to gather, it makes differences in people’s lives, and it brings joy to the players, parents, coaches, and volunteers.