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Des Moines Refugee Support builds teamwork, friendship for refugee kids

"It gets them to a place where they get to be a part of something,” said Alison Hoeman, founder of Des Moines Refugee Support. “They get to be on a team."

DES MOINES, Iowa — It's tryout night for the Des Moines Soccer Club. Players chat with their friends before drills begin. 

Then, it's go time.

Like many of his teammates, soccer is Rajabu Iddi’s favorite sport.

"I can like be strong and again be healthy and running around and seeing my friends," Iddi said.

But it’s more than just a game for him. 

Iddi is a refugee whose family fled to the United States with the hope of providing him with a better future. Soccer is a way for him to connect with other kids and adjust to life in the country.

"I want to make my family proud," he said.

Alison Hoeman, the founder of Des Moines Refugee Support, works with refugee children and families to help them establish new lives in Iowa.

"It's the sport that they all know, that they all love and, yeah, it's what they want to do more than anything," she said.

Hoeman realized early on that soccer would be a great way to introduce them to other kids because it was a comfortable, familiar setting for children from around the world.

"It gets them to a place where they get to be a part of something,” she said. “They get to be on a team."

Des Moines Refugee Support partnered with Des Moines Soccer Club because their missions of teamwork, friendship and connecting building are so similar.

"Players just want to play. They just want to come out, meet some friends, play with some old friends, enjoy the day, right?” said James Spiller, president of the Des Moines Soccer Club. “That's all they want to do, and if we can provide that opportunity, we want to do it to the best of our ability and make sure that everybody has a seat at the table, that everybody can participate."

The soccer clubs’ players, coaches and parents play a big role in fostering a welcoming environment for the players.

"We've had several different teams that have really grabbed on to our refugees and end up just doing everything for them and then our kids get invited to their kids birthday parties and 'Hey yeah, I'll take them to the game and then we'll hang out in between,'" Hoeman said.

For Tumaini Abwe, his team has been a strong force in his life, even surprising him with a birthday gift.

"They help me out and they give me rides for soccer stuff and take me for cool activities."

For these kids, soccer is just starting point to ultimately achieving their own American dream. 

To learn more about the club and its mission, including how to volunteer to help with transportation, reach out to Hoeman via email at desmoinesrefugee@gmail.com or on the club's Facebook.

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