Agustin Abdallah has spent a good chunk of his life giving back to the Latino community, of which he is a proud member. He’s organized food drives, taught ESL for adults, interpreted and coordinated at free health clinics; and taught and coached at a school for underserved middle-school boys in Lawrence, MA, which is 80 percent Latino. As a student at Tulane University School of Medicine, Abdallah, who graduates this year, found services for the Latino community to be lacking in New Orleans, so he decided to do something about it as an Albert Schweitzer Fellow.
Coupling his passion for soccer with his commitment to increasing opportunities for Latino people, Abdallah founded Mini F.C. (or Football Club), a mini-soccer and leadership program geared toward Latino youth in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans. Under the program, five- and six-year-olds play mini soccer—a child-friendly adaptation of the game that uses a smaller pitch and fewer players—and high school students serve as their coaches. Working in partnership with the local non-profit Young Leadership Council (YLC) and other community organizations and businesses, Abdallah aims to increase physical activity among Latino children and better integrate participants into the community and culture of New Orleans by providing soccer sessions and mentoring high school students.
“Through soccer, the five- and six-year-olds improve their health and develop athletic and social skills,” Abdallah explains. “By incorporating the high school students, Mini F.C. provides an avenue through which Latino adolescents can actively participate in community building, act as role models for the younger members of Mini F.C., and develop coaching skills.”
Abdallah makes clear that while the program is aimed at Latino youth, all children and youth are welcome to participate.
“Even though it targets Latinos, Mini F.C. promotes diversity, as demonstrated by the more than 13 nations and cultures represented every Sunday,” he says. “Soccer is simply a tool we use to promote health, unity, and community pride in the Mid-City neighborhood and greater New Orleans.”
Mini F.C. will not end with Abdallah’s Schweitzer Fellowship this year. Abdallah reports that Fellow Tulane med students Pedro Urday and Billy Schrimer will continue the program in collaboration with YLC and other community members.“We have also laid out a framework for sustainability through Tulane University School of Medicine, YLC-Kicks, the Mid-City Business Association, and the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, which have all shown commitment to Mini F.C. this year,” he adds. (Meanwhile, Abdallah, who recently matched into the Internal Medicine and Pediatrics program at LAC-USC, will continue working with Schweitzer Fellows and Fellows for Life as a Fellow for Life in Los Angeles.)
To date, Mini F.C. has provided 19 weeks of free, high quality soccer training to nearly 30 kids—about 12 per session. Abdallah has enjoyed watching children who are new to the sport fall in love with soccer and seeing more experienced players improve tremendously improve their game. He also relishes the sense of community Mini F.C. has fostered, not just for the players and coaches, but for himself. “It’s touching when kids run across the soccer field, their school playgrounds, or even Mardi Gras parades to give me hugs,” Abdallah says. But he’s seen more dramatic changes in the high schoolers serving as Mini F.C. coaches, many of whom now have more enthusiastic attitudes toward teamwork and community service. “I work with the high school students much more than I expected to,” he says. “They are proud of their work and enjoy their time with Mini F.C.”
Abdallah has discovered the same sense of community through the Schweitzer Fellowship, which has helped him focus his ideas into action. “Other Fellows helped me strengthen a good idea and clarify Mini F.C. mission,” he says. “Every strong idea needs a clear mission, and this clarity helped me garner so much support from a wide array of Mid-City community members.”
Click here to learn more about the Schweitzer Fellows Program in New Orleans and our work to develop leaders, create change, and improve health in vulnerable communities. We are supported entirely by charitable donations and grants.