For 13-year-old Miski Mohamed, a youth soccer summer camp at Gustavus Adolphus College was the perfect opportunity to make new friends and get better at playing the sport she loves.
“I thought it would be a fun experience and it has been so far,” the Minneapolis teenager said after the first day at the St. Peter campus.
Parents of the campers were invited to stay with their kids on campus. Those that did said they enjoyed camp for different reasons.
Manasiti Qulaten, mother of a camper, said she loved being able to take a break from doing chores around her house back in Minneapolis.
“My kid and I wish it was longer than less than one week,” she said about the four-day camp. “We’re enjoying our stay here. We’ve never been here before. My kid’s having so much fun and I don’t have to cook or clean. It’s like a vacation.”
The best part? It was an all-expenses-paid trip.
Thanks to Street Soccer Twin Cities — an organization serving youth from marginalized communities through free access to social welfare programs, including cost-free soccer camps with the guidance of their coaching staff — 137 kids from the Twin Cities and south-central Minnesota were able to learn the basics of soccer in a structured setting.
They were also able to experience life on a college campus, giving them a glimpse of what their future would be like as a college student.
Of the 137 kids, 95% came from immigrant families and more than half of them were girls.
“I wanted to create something that encourages young women to play soccer and to show them they can do anything they want,” said Hani Haybe, founder of the organization. “Growing up, I didn’t get that. As a young woman wearing a hijab, we’re not encouraged to play sports within our community. But soccer changed my life. It was my outlet.”
So from Thursday to Sunday last week, girls wearing hijabs ran across the Gustavus soccer fields with nothing but supportive chants coming from their peers, coaches and parents.
Haybe said she’s proud of her organization’s ability to provide it all for free.
“In a world of pay-to-play athletics, many communities are left out,” she said. “So we developed something that gives them the opportunity to play and allows them to give back to their local community.”
The group has partnered with other local community organizations for sponsorships and, in return, the athletes of Street Soccer Twin Cities complete an hour of community service each week. In doing so, the cost of the organization’s programs is zero for participants.
The camp at Gustavus was sponsored by Eric Throsell, CEO of SUCCESS Computer Consulting in Golden Valley, due to his strong ties with the college as a parent of a Gustie.
“He knew we would be able to provide this opportunity so he got connected with us and we started planning it,” said Laura Burnett-Kurie, head women’s soccer coach at Gustavus. “It’s been great so far. We have a staff of coaches from colleges across the Midwest as well as college players and Gustavus coaches that are running all the sessions.”
The camp itinerary included a campus tour, group meals, training sessions, soccer tournaments, an award ceremony, a bonfire and other summer camp activities.
One activity in particular that was a hit with all of the campers was swimming at the pool.
With campers from different cultures and religious backgrounds present, camp organizers decided to split pool time by gender.
“I like girls-only pool time because I can wear whatever I want,” Mohamed said, adding that she’s only able to take her hijab off around other girls.
Camp organizers also acknowledged that a majority of their campers — including Haybe herself — were Muslim.
“We wanted to provide a really inclusive, safe environment for them,” Burnett-Kurie said. “So we have a morning, afternoon and evening prayer built in for those who want to do so.”
The camp at Gustavus isn’t the first of its kind and it won’t be the last.
For eight years now, the organization has been hosting year-round soccer camps across the country and, on a weekly basis, they host youth development programs, economic development programs, career readiness workshops and more.
“The sport brings the kids in, but then we try to connect them with other positive programs that benefit them and their family,” said Soren Smogard-Ayers, camp director from Street Soccer Twin Cities. “It’s easy to be enthusiastic about this work when Hani is so passionate about it.”