The 2016 MLS WORKS Community MVP is connecting kids with soccer globally

MLS WORKS 2016 Community MVP winner

Plenty of college students travel the world after graduation. Not so many, however, are so inspired by their experiences that they decide to set up nonprofits when they return.

But that’s what 2016 MLS WORKS Community MVP Contest presented by Wells Fargo Grand Prize winnerStephen Schirra did. After graduating from the University of Connecticut in December of 2014, he immediately set out to visit countries and cities he’d simply always wanted to see — Spain, Italy, the Bahamas. But soon, he realized he wanted more.

“It was fun, in a sense, but there was nothing behind it,” he explains. “I realized that there was a way to travel with purpose and do something so much greater — but I didn’t know where to start.” 

But it turns out he could start right from one of his main passions – soccer.   

“While traveling, I’d always bring a soccer ball with me. Through that, I was able to see this common language, this universality,” Schirra recalls. “I could be playing with this Romanian kid in Paris who didn’t speak English, but we bonded over this shared passion for the sport.” 

It was during these casual interactions that Schirra saw an opportunity for service. “I decided that instead of bringing one soccer ball with me, I was going to bring an entire suitcase full of them,” he says, “and use the game of soccer to impact kids’ lives in a positive manner.”  

From that inspiration grew Around the Worlds, a nonprofit organization dedicated to using soccer to better the lives of orphaned and otherwise underprivileged children all around the world. Since the program’s first workshop at a small orphanage in Peru in August 2015, Schirra has taught soccer to over 3300 kids through 70 different organizations. 

The 2016 MLS WORKS Community MVP is connecting kids with soccer globally -

He’s met them everywhere from schools to orphanages to churches to youth shelters, in 15 different countries. That’s also not to mention the 1,109 soccer balls he’s given to beneficiaries, along with other equipment such as goals and jerseys. Most recently, he’s expanded the program to El Salvador, Casa de Criança de Tires orphanage in Portugal, and a neighborhood in the mountains of Medellín, Colombia. 

He’s also been working on setting programs up in Haiti, Belize, and the Bahamas, as well as South Africa, and Thailand, but next he believes he’ll be making his way to Brazil. That’s where a local organization he’s found wants to start a program, so he’ll use Around the Worlds to run it on a preliminary basis, then train participants to continue it after him.

These trips are piling up faster than Schirra can get to them. “It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s just a matter of ‘when,’’” he says of his next steps. 

But this abundance of opportunity was not always the case. In fact, Schirra doesn’t think he would be nearly where the organization is now without the MLS WORKS Community MVP Contest presented by Wells Fargo.

“Before the contest, I was at the end of the rope with Around the Worlds — almost to the point of wanting to give up,” explains Schirra, who gave his first workshop only seven months before he won the Award. “Everyone who wants to do something to give back goes into it with this mindset of ‘I just want to change the world,’ and you get really quickly reminded … that you can’t do that. You almost became cynical about it because you start so excited and the next thing is just failure and rejection and defeat.

“But the next thing you know, I get the call [about my nomination] … and later that month for it to have gone our way, I just needed that to push me forward.” 

And knowing how frustrating it can be to feel stuck, in the little down time Schirra has between programs, he’s started his own mini, local award. He gave out Around the Worlds' first sports scholarship just last week.

Says Schirra, “I wanted to be able to replicate what the award did for me, even in a small capacity for just a local kid who’s using sports — not even soccer, just sports — to make a difference. As an ode to MLS and everything they did for me, I wanted to be able to do that for someone else.

Stay tuned to this week for more information about how to join this year's contest, and visit to learn more about MLS WORKS.