On one visit to St. John, the sight of several students kicking around a flat soccer ball made Dean Doeling stop in his tracks.
The Nike senior production artist had been to St. John four times when he passed the Julius E. Sprauve School last June and saw the students playing with the well-used sports equipment last June.
“On one of my visits to St. John I was going to get my rental car and I happened to pass JESS and there were about 10 kids kicking an extremely flat and well-used soccer ball and they were having a blast,” said Doeling. “First I thought, ‘how cute, that they can have fun with that.’ And then I thought, ‘why is there only one soccer ball.’”
That scene was the inspiration for what would become Using Sport For Social Change (USFSC), an organization to empower Love City youth through sports.
“At first I thought, ‘let me use Nike to get these kids some balls,’” Doeling said.
The Nike artist soon realized that the needs of St. John sports went farther and what started out as a way to get local schools some new Nike balls has turned into a venue to effect real change on the island.
“I realized there was a much bigger need than just getting the kids in school some balls,” said Doeling. “That’s when I started Using Sport for Social Change, to give kids the confidence they need to set personal goals, achieve their aspirations and create opportunities for themselves, their families and their communities.”
As word of Doeling’s initiative spread, parents and organizations joined the USFSC effort, he explained.
“The more people I got into contact with, the more curiosity I was drumming up,” Doeling said. “I have business owners, parents, education officials and the St. John Community Foundation on board. We’ve put together a committee and hashed out some ideas and I’ve learned a lot about the island.”
After Doeling started asking around back at Nike, a flood of soccer, basketball, football and softball equipment started crossing his desk.
“I found I had all this equipment but no way to get it down there,” said Doeling. “I was able to get a couple of donations and spent my own money to send some things down, but shipping down there is really expensive. Nike Corporate donated 130 balls as well as the cost of shipping.”
Through the St. John Community Foundation, Doeling was able to distribute sports equipment to every school on island.
Doeling also donated 20 softball gloves to the Ruby Rutnik Tournament, basketballs for use at a recent clinic in Pine Peace and he has more equipment to donate.
“I still have six boxes of sports balls that I would love to get down there,” said Doeling. “Another thing I’m doing is hoping to start a soccer program in the fall which is in the works right now.”
The Nike artist is also planning a Just Play Day on October 12, which would introduce kids to sports they may not have been experienced yet, explained Doeling.
“There would be individual events in the morning and team events in the afternoon,” he said. “We’re going to have different stations and the kids will have to go through all of the stations. So they’ll get to experience each sport.”
Doeling is looking for volunteers and athletes to help out for the Just Play Day as well as businesses to help ensure that the day is a success.
“We would like to get businesses to donate anything from chairs to whistles to anything that can help us put on a more successful event,” Doeling said. “We’re working on getting T-shirts for volunteers and kids and we’ll have prizes for all the participants as well.”
While USFSC is still in its initial stages, Doeling has set up a website which has attracted a lot of publicity, he explained.
“After about six months, I started to see some amazing results trickle in,” said Doeling. “I’m getting a lot of people who come upon my website who are huge fans of St. John and many of them have offered their services.”
“Two teenage girls in Delaware said they love St. John and wanted to know what they could do to give back to the community that has given so much to them,” he said. “They volunteered to do two bake sales and donated the funds to get sports balls shipped to St. John.”
All donations to USFSC are used to ship sports equipment to St. John, Doeling added. For more information check out the website usingsportforsocialchange.com or contact Doeling at Nike Inc. at 503-532-6756.