The unifying nature of soccer plays a key role in Jeremy Hollon's mission to help those who came from afar integrate into a welcoming Columbus community.
Hollon, who is one of 24 finalists to be nominated for the 2019 MLS WORKS Community MVP Contest, oversees a youth mentoring program for refugee and immigrant youth in Columbus called Community Refugee & Immigration Services (CRIS). The goal, Hollon explained, is to show not only his students but all of Columbus, that all humans matter and should be appreciated for their individuality and humanity.
"I see myself, and our programming as a haven of support, belonging, and hope for the quietly strong and innately brave, so that we can expand the potential of new Americans and further equality for all," Hollon said.
As part of its mission, CRIS is geared towards helping middle school and high school students find a friend in the community to assist with academics, employment, language, and most importantly, feeling welcomed and supported in their new city of Columbus.
Since the start of the program in 2016, CRIS has served over 400 students in 16 schools and three districts, and as a program predicated on showcasing unity through diversity, soccer plays a big role in the equation.
"One of the largest aspects of our programming is soccer," Hollon said. "As you can imagine, serving children from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central & South America, soccer is incredibly important to them.
"From pick-up games in various parks, to attending Crew SC matches, to an annual fundraiser called the 'Columbus Nations Cup', soccer is always at the forefront of how students develop, grow, and make new friends," Hollon continued.
With over 52 countries represented at CRIS, including countless languages, religions, cultures, and experiences, every student is different, Hollon said, but that in itself is a unifying feature and one that CRIS embraces for the betterment of these individuals' lives and the community in which they now call home.
"Our program is founded on the notion of seeing what 'one' can do," Hollon said. "One person, one hour of time per week, one moment of inspiration and hope. One person, far from home and making their way to Columbus. One person right here, who understands what being human demands. One community that sees the American in everyone, no matter who they are or where they are from. One city that acts as a beacon, that understands the value of being open, true, and good. It is truly wonderful what one can do."
Those looking to help make a difference can do so in multiple ways, as CRIS receives volunteer support from all kinds of age groups, including college students, young professionals, veterans, and retirees, in addition to material donations such as school supplies, transportation for STEM-related field trips, soccer balls, professional sports tickets, and more.
As the 2019 Crew SC Community MVP, Hollon stands alongside 23 other finalists, who will travel to Orlando, Fla. during the 2019 MLS All-Star Week for a chance to be named the Grand Prize winner of the MLS WORKS Community MVP Contest. The Grand Prize winner, voted on by fans via online and Twitter, will receive a $25,000 donation for their selected charity and be recognized on-field during halftime of the 2019 MLS All-Star Game at Exploria Stadium in Orlando on July 31.
Voting for the Community MVP Grand Prize winner will close on July 31 at 2 p.m. ET.