Kicks for Kids hosts first event of semester

USC’s award-winning service organization Kicks for Kids, dedicated to promoting a healthy lifestyle for children with special needs, held its Fall 2015 kickoff on Sunday.

Kicks for Kids organizes weekly soccer games on Sunday in McCarthy Quad for children with developmental disabilities. The kids come from all over the greater Los Angeles area and spend a few hours exercising together. Besides getting to know each other, they also get to build relationships with the many college students who volunteer there every week.

Kicks for Kids President Ariana Shives has been volunteering at the organization since her freshman year. She said she has enjoyed every moment because of the personal connections she has made.

“Kicks for Kids means the world to me,” Shives said. “It has taught me so much about life, about happiness and about what it means to love.”

The organization was first founded in March 2013 when alumnus Zade Shakir came up with the idea of celebrating children who are traditionally marginalized by organized sports. He was inspired after attending Spirits in Action, an annual event at USC that is modeled after the Special Olympics.

“At Spirits in Action, I got paired up with a young man named Erick, who is autistic,” Shakir said. “He was my buddy for the day, and he loved exercising, running around and playing soccer.”

Shakir later found out from Erick’s parents that Erick normally didn’t have a place to play soccer, so they really look forward to Spirits in Action every year.

“After hearing that, I realized how few opportunities there are for children with special needs. I wanted to provide a weekly outlet for kids like Erick to play in a welcoming and all-inclusive environment,” Shakir said.

Once the idea for Kicks for Kids was born, Shakir contacted local elementary schools and reached out to friends and like-minded, hard-working people to join his cause. Senior business administration major Zaki Khan was one of the people Shakir recruited onto his founding board, and he is now the organization’s vice president.

“One of my major responsibilities is external affairs, which involves keeping in contact with special guests,” Khan said. “Today, we actually have two Major League Soccer Players here: Todd Dunivant and A. J. DeLaGarza from the L.A. Galaxy.”

Fellow executive board member Austin Farres-Oriol, who is in charge of fundraising, explained that Kicks for Kids has been preparing programs like this since the summer and end of last year.

“Ever since last session, we’ve been getting ready. We want to have more special guests, more interactive scrimmages and more organized programs on each field for the kids,” Farres-Oriol said.

Since 2013, Kicks for Kids has grown tremendously, garnering more volunteers every year. Last year, the organization won the 2014-2015 USC Tommy Awards for Best Service/Volunteer Organization. E-board members are looking forward to another great season and hope to gain an even larger presence on campus.

“Our goal is to have a one-to-one ratio of student to child because we want to give as much attention to the kids as possible,” Khan said. “That’s why we want everyone at USC to know what Kicks for Kids is. The more volunteers we have, the better.”

Dean Davidson, a sophomore majoring in accounting, volunteered at Kicks for Kids the for the first time Sunday.

“I thought doing this on a Sunday morning instead of sleeping in was a much better use of my time,” he said.

Davidson said he was impressed with how the event was orchestrated.

“I really like it. It seems to be very well-organized, well-run and with tons of volunteers, so every little buddy has a big buddy,” Davidson said.

Juan Negrete, a junior majoring in policy, planning and development, also said that he was drawn to the organization because of his passion for youth development.

“It’s a really great event because it mixes a beautiful sport, soccer, with a beautiful community, the USC community,” Negrete said. “When you mix these two things together, you get something special that can even make an impact on a kid’s awareness about college.”

Khan hopes that soon, everyone at USC will know what Kicks for Kids is.

“One of the things we are working on is creating a more holistic student organization feel,” he said. “Previously, volunteers would just come and go. But we want to include them more by having career info sessions with the Occupational Therapy department paths and working on a partnership with Smiles Cafe so everyone can go there together after a game.”

Kicks for Kids has already expanded across California, and the program is now running chapters in both Los Angeles and San Jose. Anyone who wants to volunteer for Kicks for Kids can register online.