GOSHEN — Started in Newtown over 15 years ago by four soccer players with a passion for growing the game and insuring opportunities, Futbol Friends International has made a significant difference for children worldwide, raising over $20,000 to purchase soccer equipment, and organizing opportunities for kids to participate. The latter includes providing funds for first aid kits, drinking water, transportation, and the many things that make team soccer possible.

With the world, and sport, reeling from the current COVID-19 crises, the group recently launched a “Give COVID-19 a Red Card Campaign.” The organization has pledged to donate up to $2,500 in matched funds to the Connecticut Food Bank and its coronavirus pandemic response program. Every dollar given to Futbol Friends in the name of The Connecticut Food Bank will be matched up to $2,500.

Sophia Bourgeois, president of the organization, explained the genesis of the initiative. “This was begun to assist those in need during this global crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. After several “Zoom” meetings it was suggested by board member Peter Chapman of Woodbury that Futbol Friends could match individual donations to the Connecticut Food Bank ($2,500 matching funds for a total of $5,000). In keeping with the `futbol’ theme, the `Red Card’ symbolizes kicking Covid-19 out of the game.”

Bourgeois contacted the Connecticut Food Bank with the idea and the organization supported it. “Once we reach our goal of $2,500, we hope another player (a large corporation, company, business or individual) will find the space to assist and create another goal of matching funds.”

Sophia Bourgeois grew up in Woodbury, moved to Stamford after graduating college and works in fundraising at Neurological Institute in White Plains, N.Y. Her father, Arnaud Bourgeois, with over 20 years experience in the non-profit soccer world, serves as the group’s vice president. Several other members of the organization are Litchfield County residents and have been active in county and area soccer clubs and teams.

To date, Futbol Friends has raised $700 ($1,400 with matching funds) with its “Red Card” program. Said Sophia Bourgeois, “With the support of the Connecticut Food Bank and all of our social media followers we are close to 30 percent of our goal.”

She commented, “Around the world, soccer (futbol) pitches are empty. Players and their families and communities face another, more powerful and hidden, opponent: the Coronavirus, COVID-19. The virus has effectively stilled the sound of the ball being driven towards the goal and the goalie’s outstretched hands. In an effort to return local teams to the world’s favorite sport, Futbol Friends International, has signaled its commitment to help in the struggle against the virus.”

The overall mission of Futbol Friends International is to empower youth to support their peers from disadvantaged communities globally through the one language they all share: soccer [futbol]. Said Bourgeois, “At Futbol Friends International, we provide children around the world with soccer equipment and everything they may need to play. Given the current pandemic we re-shifted our efforts.”

Futbol Friends’ members are committed to getting to know players and their families from around the world. The four initial members informally had made donations of soccer equipment and hosted teams from Europe and South America, but wanted to have a bigger impact and involve more people in the process.

“We want to assist disadvantaged young people here and abroad to enjoy the benefits of playing soccer,” said Bourgeois. “For some communities that’s a lot. We know there’s truth to the saying `For people with nothing, soccer is everything.’ We also want to involve more people in our group, and inspire others to form groups like ours in other states.”

Sophia Bourgeois has been involved in the group since her high school days, remotely through college, and took over the role of president after she graduated from Syracuse University last May.

“Our goal is to make a difference, and we continue to do what we need to do to make a difference. Whatever level that happens on we are grateful for. There is nothing more gratifying than hearing from a team we have helped, and sending us a photograph of them with soccer balls, goals, nets, cleats, food, water, and other soccer gear, simple things that many of us each day take for granted.”

Futbol Friends continues to evolve and hopes to expand its fundraising abilities in the future. Said Bourgeois, “We do not have corporate support at this time, but would be willing to discuss this avenue with any corporation or individual with similar interests. In particular for our COVID-19 campaign we would love for corporations to step up and add to our matching fund so that we can maximize our giving.”

Futbol friends has helped hundreds of children all over the world in countries such as Haiti, in South America, Africa, and in the United States, including Connecticut. Futbol Friends’ funds have been sent directly overseas so as to eliminate the cost of shipping and so benefiting the local economies.

According to its website, Futbol Friends is involved in several other current projects.

The Red Rocks — Acts of Hope Foundation in Musanze, Rwanda has the goal of training disadvantaged children in soccer to a level that allows them access to opportunities like soccer scholarships and life coaching. Some 150 children ranging between ages of 6 to 17 have been seeking help raising money for uniforms made locally, soccer balls, shoes, shin guards, goal posts and educational equipment such as projectors and camcorders.

Another project is with Akolly Etsri of Lome, Togo who fixes and makes handcrafted footballs and nets for clubs in his area, utilizing only local materials. FFI hopes to raise enough money to fund a new holder, hammer, mallet, perforators, cutter, cloth, leather, glue, paints, machine, pump and a net that will enable Etsri to donate more soccer balls and nets to children in need in his area.

And the Wire Soccer Academy in Oyugis, Kenya is a group of 75 girls and boys that love soccer and are managed by Coach Simon Okello. Wire’s mission is to help break the cycle of poverty in Kenya by building stronger children, and stronger communities. The group began in the town of Oyugis and plans to expand to surrounding areas, sharing its “material goods with those in need and ministering to them to the best of our abilities,” said Okello.

Visit www.futbolfriendsint.org/our-team for more information on the organization. Donations may be made online at Futbol Friend’s website by going to www.futbolfriendsint.org/ redcardcampaign, or by mail to: Ricky Berglund, Futbol Friends Int., 9 Dresden Court East, Goshen, CT 06756.

Connecticut Media Group