Abruzzese Spreads Love of Soccer Through Soccer Without Borders Program
By Greg Royce
Director of Athletics Communications
Southern New Hampshire University women's soccer junior Daniela Abruzzese (Parsippany, N.J.) has gained a reputation as a tough-nosed defender for the Penmen. A three-year starter, Abruzzese has twice earned Northeast-10 All-Conference honors and was a member of the league's All-Rookie Team as a freshman.
Off the field, however, Abruzzese, a Business Administration major, has developed a knack for giving back. Last March, she traveled with a group of SNHU students to Africa for an Alternative Spring Break program, while in January, her most recent adventure took her to Nicaragua, where she volunteered for the Soccer Without Borders program.
Soccer Without Borders operates programs both domestically and internationally, using soccer to forge bonds and to serve underprivileged youth. The program in Nicaragua serves exclusively young girls in the city of Granada. Abruzzese, who went to the program's T.E.A.M. Camp in January with a group of collegiate women's soccer players from various institutions, learned of the program from Dr. Doug Blais, SNHU's Faculty Athletic Representative and the chair of the Sport Management department. Blais had volunteered with the program last spring while on sabbatical.
"Dr. Blais mentioned the program to me, and I knew I wanted to do something, whether it was going back to Africa or something else, so when the opportunity presented itself, I took advantage of it," said Abruzzese.
Abruzzese's first task, after getting accepted to the program was to collect soccer gear to bring with her. The program requires all of its volunteers to bring 50 pounds of soccer gear with them, so she worked with James Gassman, an Assistant Director of Athletics at SNHU who oversees the equipment room, to put together some gear, as well as going to local soccer stores for additional donations.
After she completed that and arrived in the city of Granada for a 10-day stay. The Soccer Without Borders program consists of two parts, a two-hour soccer session, followed by a two-hour educational session with program interns in the program's home base, a house where the interns stay.
The area where the soccer portion of the program was held was a little different than the Fieldturf-surfaced Larkin Field where Abruzzese practices and plays for the Penmen.
"They don't have nets, so their goal is literally a post. The horses graze on the field, so you have to be careful where you're walking," said Daniela. "When we (the volunteers) would play, all of us are from solid soccer programs, and we would have trouble controlling the ball, so you can imagine what it was like for the girls in the program."
With the language barrier (Spanish is the official language in Nicaragua), Abruzzese feared that it might be tough to connect with the girls, but instead, they learned to communicate in other ways.
"These girls come up to you, and they don't have female role models as their mothers are working and their families are pretty big. They don't get a lot of attention, so when we come in, they want that attention and want to talk to you, and if you don't speak the language, it's tough."
"You learn to form relationships with the kids and work around the language barrier. I learned to teach them by example. Being able to show them how to pass, how to dribble, they appreciate that."
Abruzzese gives one example of the bond that quickly develops between program participants and the volunteers who are only there for a short time.
"There was a little girl, maybe four or five years old, and she was the cutest girl. Every day we would walk back from the soccer fields, which was about a mile, and we would hold hands with the girls. I let go of her hand for a second, and she stopped, and gave me this look like 'You can't let go of my hand.' Holding her hand and giving her that attention meant the world to her. Then, when we left, she gave me a hug for three minutes and didn't want to let go."
Although it wasn't her first volunteer trip abroad, Daniela says she learned a lot from the experience, and would recommend it to other people looking to make a similar volunteer commitment.
"The biggest thing I took away from the trip is that we tend to get caught up in everyday life and get content with what you're doing, that you forget what's going on in the world around you. Things we take for granted, like being able to play your sport every day, and sometimes complaining about it, they cherish it, and it brings you down to earth. It makes you realize that you can't take things for granted."
"Reflecting on this trip, when I went to Africa with a group from school, I knew a lot of the other people involved. On this trip, going on my own, I didn't know what to expect, but the relationships with the other volunteers were awesome. It was interesting to talk to them to see what kinds of volunteer programs their teams do, and what kinds of traveling they do. It was great."