NEW YORK(Friday, Dec. 10, 2021) – Major League Soccer and Wells Fargo announced today the 27 Community MVPs that were selected this year for making a positive impact in their communities. Fans throughout the soccer community had the opportunity to nominate themselves or individuals who have gone above and beyond, including healthcare professionals, social workers, teachers, delivery & truck drivers, grocery store employees, first responders and many other essential workers to keep our communities resilient and safe.
Through the 2021 MLS WORKS Community MVPs Program presented by Wells Fargo, nearly $70,000 will be donated to 27 charities on behalf of each Community MVP, one representing each MLS club. Each Community MVP will receive a $2,500 donation to a 501(c)(3) charity of their choice, a customized adidas MLS jersey and an MLS adidas NATIVO 21 Official Match Ball.
Please see below to learn more about our incredible honorees or visit MLSsoccer.com/CommunityMVPs for additional information on this year’s recipients.
Atlanta United: Mariana Ortiz
Mariana has been an activist in the Atlanta community for over three years advocating for disability rights and promoting civic engagement, especially on the behalf of her Latinx community. She has worked as one of three bilingual Spanish mental health first-aid instructors in the state of Georgia, certified by the National Council of Mental Wellbeing, to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health and increasing knowledge of resources, signs, and symptoms. Along with this, as part of the Latino Community of Practice, she provides Latinx families who have children with autism with resources (that she develops, finds, and translates) that will help their development and transitions in life.
Austin FC: Ismael Guzmán
Ismael Guzmán is selflessly dedicated to the lower income community in East Austin and to the beautiful game of soccer. He is a legend to the children and young people who have played for East Austin Soccer Club. For over a decade, Guzmán has provided access to competitive teams and low-income youth, and has single-handedly curated the fields on which his players are nurtured to become better athletes on and off the pitch. Guzmán has focused his efforts on providing underprivileged children the opportunity to play competitive soccer at a sufficiently low cost to families in a city where poverty disproportionately affects people of color, and many children are less likely to participate in organized soccer.
Chicago Fire: Ernesto Gonzalez
Ernesto is a proud born and raised South Side Chicagoan and is the Marketing Manager of the non-profit, My Block My Hood My City. Ernesto has provided the connection between the Chicago Fire and everyone else in his organization so that the partnership can be maximized to help the youth and neighborhoods they serve. Ernesto has led and been part of initiatives with his organization, such as their volunteer program, BlockFit (encouraging people to be healthy), Senior Services (grocery delivery to the elderly), Block Club Services (neighborhood clean-ups and events), Be a Part of the Light (holiday community decorating and celebration), and their Youth Explorers Program which provides work opportunities, educational explorations, culinary experiences and more to youth from divested neighborhoods.
FC Cincinnati: Mary Beth Knight
Mary Beth has worked with several non-profits and schools in the Cincinnati area for years, and every student, child, teacher, and resident who has interacted with her has seen her love and commitment to helping the community. As a P.E. teacher and Resource Coordinator at St. Joseph School in the West End, she always put the needs of the students first. If a child needed lunch, new clothes, or a shoulder to lean on, Mary Beth was that person for each and every student. Before Mary Beth, the core resources were not brought to these students. She now continues to impact the West End community through MyWhy and the community gardens at Hays Porter.
Colorado Rapids: JoAnna McTevia
With a long line of military service in her family, JoAnna McTevia, the founder of the Bodhi Battalion, has a profound appreciation for the sacrifices of our country’s veterans. Through her work as a professional therapist, she also learned the extent to which many of our veterans struggle to reintegrate into civilian life. After extensive work with veterans and their families, JoAnna witnessed the prevalence of homelessness and displacement as a result of PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), substance abuse and a lack of community support or resources. It became evident that the impact these issues have on the veteran, his or her family and the community they live in is beyond the scope of common understanding. Continuing to exhaust all efforts, resources and strategies to achieve justice and work to help rehabilitate veterans, she is an exceptional woman and with the help of her team they inspire change in individuals.
Columbus Crew: Michael Rush
Michael works at Ohio Northern University (ONU) as the Employee Wellness Director. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Michael and his team were on the frontlines making sure that the University could continue to have in-person classes. And thanks to their dedication, ONU was one of only a handful of universities that finished their Spring semester in person. Since the pandemic, Michael has been running Covid-19 testing and vaccine clinics free of charge for the campus and the community. He also has continued to do employee screenings, wellness clinics for community business, as well as flu shot clinics. ONU has a mobile clinic that Michael and his staff take to underserved areas in the community and do medical appointments. His passion for the wellness of others rubs off on those that work with him and make them excited to help others.
FC Dallas: Michael Thomas
Michael Thomas, Executive Director of My Possibilities, is involved in almost every aspect of the organization, including but not limited to long-term strategy, fundraising and campaign development, program design, budget planning, campus design and construction. My Possibilities provides a variety of services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities like Autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries and others. The focus is on continued education in life skills, social skills and job training, including placing adults with disabilities into community employment. Many of the FC Dallas Special Olympics Unified Team members also attend My Possibilities.
DC United: Charles Robinson
Charles Robinson, more popularly known as ‘Coach Rob’, has been a staple in the DC soccer community for over 20 years and has made a lasting impact on all of his teams coaching with DC SCORES. As the Dean of Students for Truesdell Elementary School in DC’s Ward 4, he started his involvement with DC SCORES as a volunteer referee. After a couple of seasons, he wanted to be all in and became a soccer coach despite never playing the sport when he was younger. Previously, Truesdell was home to both an elementary and middle school so Coach Rob got experience coaching both boys and girls at various youth ages. His commitment to helping his team both on and off the field led to numerous championships, but more importantly cultivated a safe space for every single kid that was a part of the team. On top of engaging his students, Coach Rob also cultivated an amazing supportive community made up of school administration and family members at Truesdell that show up rain or shine for every single home and away game for Truesdell. Recently and more notably, Coach Rob was a fierce advocate and a leader when it came to helping Truesdell redo their soccer field.
Houston Dynamo: Luis Garcia-Alvarez
Luis has dedicated more than 16 years to working for the benefit of underserved individuals in the Houston area. He is a highly experienced and skilled Latino community leader, currently the co-founder and President of System for Education Empowerment and Success (SEDES) – one of Houston’s most reputable institutions providing inspirational leadership and direction to thousands of underserved individuals by promoting education as the base to achieve success. Luis has made enormous personal sacrifices to help community members to flee under adverse conditions; even during challenging times, he has been on the front line bringing new opportunities to those who aspire to a better quality of life. Despite COVID-19, SEDES served 1,200 individuals, delivering about 10,000 instructional hours, while community members donated 4,244 volunteer hours, creating a tremendous impact in the city.
LAFC: Victor Murillo
The tragedies that occurred on 9/11 led Victor on a path to join the United States Marine Corp to serve his country. After the years of service and working as a private investigator assisting law enforcement throughout the country for seven years, Victor realized he wanted to continue his service and return to his true passion by mentoring children through sports. In addition to becoming a board member and volunteer at Athletes in the Makin, Coach Victor has also been a part of “Big Brother Big Sister” program as a Big Brother. Victor has been a vital part of Solano Elementary fundraising as a member of the PTA. He promotes healthy living through exercise by promoting “City of Angels” boxing gym in Los Angeles. Every Thanksgiving, Victor feeds the homeless, and every year during Christmas morning, he visits hospitals with his family and donates toys to kids inside.
LA Galaxy: Nelly Cristales
Nelly Cristales teaches second grade at 32nd Street/USC Visual & Performing Arts Magnet School. She is a passionate educator who goes above and beyond to challenge her students at all levels of ability to make academic progress and develop skills to endure and solve challenges. She has been a teacher for over 20 years. Day and night, her passion to her present and past students is so obvious. Reaching out to parents, staying long hours after school, bringing outside programs to ensure not only her students, but all students at her site achieve academic success and academic support. Inspiring them to reach academic success no matter the level they are in. Motivating them through words and actions that go hand on hand in what she believes…that all have a unique potential, one she is there to help release from within.
Inter Miami CF: Ruth Figueroa
Ruth Figueroa is the founder and president of The Nirvana Project, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization striving to serve the South Florida community by raising awareness in the inclusion of athletes with disabilities in the sport of running in 5Ks, marathons, triathlons & obstacles races. The organization’s goal is humble, but significant; transmit happiness, generate smiles, build positive feelings through running to as many people as possible, integrating all those who wish to be part of this project. The Nirvana Project also was created in loving memory of Ruth’s brother, Carlos Josue Paladino, who was in a car accident when he was 21 years old that left him paralyzed in a wheelchair. One year later, one of his legs was amputated due to an infection and he didn’t survive. Ruth's brother loved sports so much. He was an amazing soccer player, runner and engineering student.
Minnesota United: Mario Wimberly
Chief Visionary Officer Mario Wimberly helped found TC Sol Futsal with the imperative service model of eliminating the financial barrier in youth sports. TC Sol Futsal strives to provide competitive futsal in a positive environment, while promoting physical health and neighborhood give-back to marginalized communities. Mario has made it his mission to provide access to quality, competitive sports for low-income children in the Twin Cities. He believes that this game has the ability to bring different people, from different backgrounds, together and does not want finances to limit that imperative connection at a young age. By providing futsal camps, clinics and leagues around Minneapolis and St. Paul, in turn Mario and his team are developing a strong, positive, multicultural community.
CF Montréal: Francine Laplante
Francine Laplante got involved with the youth of the Center Jeunesse de Montréal from a very simple idea: celebrate children’s birthdays in style. This idea, seemingly simple, has had a different effect in the community. In fact, it has changed the lives of the young and old. Since the creation of this project, Francine has impacted the lives of more than 200 young people, almost every two months. Whether it's Halloween, Valentine's Day or the coming holiday season, she is always involved. She always takes the time to personalize each message for the youth. To illustrate the grandiose aspect of Francine and her dedication, she is preparing to donate an organ to a child in need in the coming months.
Nashville SC: Charmin Bates
Charmin is the Founder and Executive Director of Creative Girls Rock®, a nonprofit organization based in Nashville, TN created to educate, inspire, and empower women to utilize their creative talent for personal and professional development. Creative Girls Rock was birthed from Charmin's passion for creative arts, youth development, community engagement, and a therapeutic method for anxiety. The CGR mission is to educate and empower young girls and women to utilize their creative talents in unique ways to enhance creativity and to foster balanced living, personal growth and happiness. As an advocate for young professionals and community engagement, Charmin commits her volunteer time fighting to end poverty and mentoring youth.
New England Revolution: Erin Scott
Erin is a mom of three beautiful young girls and one brave son who lost his battle to pediatric cancer 23 years ago. Erin is the Executive Director of The Izzy Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports children and their families diagnosed with cancer and other life-threatening diseases both in Rhode Island and nationally. Erin has helped lead this organization in their mission to service the families and children that walk through the doors of Hasbro Children’s Hospital located in Providence, Rhode Island. Services include the hosting of two support groups for bereaved families and families on/off treatment, sponsoring a Y.O.U.T.H. Board that coordinates childhood cancer awareness events, and so much more.
NYCFC: Alexis Bedolla Benavente
Starting as a participant, Alexis Bedolla was a part of City in the Community's Saturday Night Lights program and Youth Leadership Program. He was committed to creating change in his community in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx. As a part of the New York City FC’s 50-pitch initiative, Alexis helped get a soccer pitch built at MS 127/ Castle Hill where he worked and went to school as a little boy. Alexis continues to give back to the community that he loves, and as he works with NYPD he can protect, serve and promote safe spaces to youth where he grew up.
New York Red Bulls: Chris Naspo
Chris Naspo is a Health and PE teacher in Freehold Boro, NJ. As an educator and soccer dad he recognized the power of the sport and how it could enact social change. So, he decided to do something about it! He started All Kids One Field, a non-profit charity made up of different members of the community. The mission was simple: to bridge diverse groups within the community by promoting participation in community sports, local sporting events, and wellness activities. This summer, the organization came back stronger than ever with their outdoor Soccer Night. With over 750+ in attendance; families, kids, senators, mayors, police officers, board of education leaders and even the school superintendent came out for a fantastic night of community. The mission of All Kids One Field took on a life of its own when the coaches from both Freehold Boro and Freehold Township forged a friendship at Soccer Night and decided to get their two teams together for a friendly scrimmage.
Orlando City: Bettina Grzeskowiak
Bettina formed Embrace of Celebration as a way to do what she could to try and minimize the hunger and homelessness issues just outside of her community. She has built a huge community awareness and support network, partnering with Second Harvest Food Bank and the Celebration Foundation to assemble and distribute 50 meal bags every week. She also coordinates any emergency requests for housing, has started a "sponsor a child" Christmas Angel program for the children currently living in hotels. Bettina is also actively working with local school board and county commissioners to develop a workable set of standards to allow developers to convert existing and derelict hotels into affordable housing to allow those families currently struggling an opportunity to get back on their feet. Bettina puts in an incredible amount of hours every week, collecting food donations, coordinating the youth group who put messages of support and hope into every child's meal bag.
Philadelphia Union: Thomas Kutchner
Tom and Gina Kutchner run a non-profit organization called Angels of Christmas that every year provides gifts and a holiday party for hundreds of local children in need in the Philadelphia area. They spend the year raising money with various fundraiser events such as a comedy night featuring local comedians. Parents who need help around the holidays can sign up and provide a wish list of the presents their children would want. Tom and Gina (with help from volunteers) buy presents for the kids, wrap them all, and then put on a holiday party for the families. Through Angels of Christmas, they also help pack and deliver food baskets to hundreds of families during the holiday season. Angels of Christmas was founded in 1995, and Tom and Gina have worked tirelessly for the less fortunate members of their community for over 35 years. They have been Philadelphia Union season ticket members since the team's first season in 2010 and have been loyal and supportive fans since then.
Portland Timbers: Ryan Kenneally
Ryan is an athlete, a true leader, and a role model for both youth and adults in Oregon and in Power Soccer, the adapted form of soccer for youth and adults with severe disabilities. Ryan was born with muscular dystrophy which has progressed with age, and he currently is a power wheelchair user. Ryan has established, coordinated, played and coached Power Soccer in the Portland community. He has coached power wheelchair users aged 6 to 60 – he is articulate, encouraging, gentle, patient and empowering to all the participants. As a result of his dedication and strong organizational skills, Adaptive Sports Northwest has been able to apply and be awarded four grants from the Portland Timbers Community Fund. These funds have been used to rent practice space, buy sport power chairs and adaptive accessories to prevent damage to expensive power chairs.
Real Salt Lake: Matthew Nelson
Matthew Nelson is the Principal of East Midvale Elementary, a title 1 school in Midvale, Utah, with over 99% of his students qualifying for free and reduced lunch. His school is home to a diverse population of students, including refugees and families struggling with homelessness. Matt Nelson is known to bring a positive energy daily to encourage his students and even does handstands to kick off assemblies. Not only does Matt do tremendous work with his students, but he takes his passion for helping outside the school as well. Matt knows the passion his students and neighbors have for soccer and has done tremendous work in bridging the gap and making soccer accessible to everyone. He has worked with local youth soccer clubs to host fundraising drives, clothing drives and skills clinics for refugee and immigrant families. Matt is relentless in making sure his students have access to every resource they need to succeed in and out of the classrooms.
San Jose Earthquakes: Vernon Medicine Cloud
Vernon has engaged with the Native American communities in Northern California working to provide vaccinations and helping to fundraise for multiple tribes throughout the pandemic. For over 14 years, Vernon has dedicated his everyday life to helping those in the community and never asks for anything in return. Vernon is a true inspirational advocate for Native Americans. Over the last few weeks, Vernon and his team put together the San Jose Earthquakes’ Native American Heritage Celebration during one of their matches. After facing a pandemic, where the most affected demographic was Native Americans, Vernon has dealt with greater number and communities than ever before needing his help. Without any questions, Vernon has continued to help those in need however he can.
Seattle Sounders: Thach Nguyen
Thach Nguyen is a long-time Seattle resident who immigrated from Vietnam with his family in the 1970s. He was born into poverty, living in Seattle public housing as a child, with very few resources except a family who believed in him and showed him the value of community. Thach is an amazing success story – as he started as a real estate agent and now is one of the most knowledgeable, sought after home rehabilitation/investors in the Seattle region (and beyond). Thach is a teacher and a guru to many, but he always leads with his heart. Thach's family, his history and compassion for his community are at the forefront of his success and drive. And now, once more, Thach is putting community first by partnering with Seattle Sounders FC’s philanthropic arm, RAVE Foundation, to build two, small-sided, turf soccer fields in the Seattle community where he grew up.
Sporting Kansas City: Hector Solorio
Hector Solorio is the owner of Hector’s Auto Service at 9th & Prospect and has worked in Historic Northeast for over twelve years. His favorite part of living and working in the community, he said, is the closeness of the Latino community in Northeast. Solorio volunteers his time for the soccer club he founded, 816 SFC Futbol Club, a youth soccer organization that stresses teamwork, family, hard work and passion. 816 SFC practices regularly in a vacant lot at 9th and Prospect. Even if a kid cannot afford to play, he never turns them down and finds a way to get them on a team, which often means using his own money to sponsor kids. Hector is an advocate for marginalized communities and is invested in doing all he can to help advance kids forward and using the game to do so.
Toronto FC: Bryan Cando
Bryan is the founder of TB West Community Services, where he focuses on female empowerment and building positive role models that contribute to communities in a positive way. He started by providing teens with employment help in parks. Then he created online programs that got people moving like dance and sports workshops. He then developed projects with youth to benefit the most affected during the pandemic. With his youth group, they created a variety of projects. From providing care packages for women in shelters to repainting a playground in Jane and Finch to creating back to school packages for high school students at Madonna Catholic School. He's always trying to help out the most in need. He's always giving youth an opportunity to build and create positive spaces, impacts and projects in our city.
Vancouver Whitecaps: Kevin Yang
Kevin Yang serves as Executive Director of Canada SCORES, a free after school program that brings children, families, and communities together in school environments to create a support system for learning and community engagement. The program uses a unique combination of soccer, poetry, and community projects to enhance physical activity, health and wellness, self-expression, academic engagement, and community involvement. Kevin’s journey with Canada SCORES began in 2013 when he began volunteering with the organization. He was part of the development board, helped manage the organization’s website, and was also a volunteer soccer coach. Now, as Executive Director, Kevin oversees all aspects of the organization.
ABOUT MLS WORKS
Major League Soccer is dedicated to addressing important social issues and improving communities where we live and play our games. Through MLS WORKS, the League’s social responsibility platform, Major League Soccer and its clubs seek to enrich the lives of those in need across the United States and Canada. To learn more visit MLSsoccer.com/MLSWORKS and follow @MLSWORKS on Twitter & Instagram.
ABOUT WELLS FARGO
Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) is a leading financial services company that has approximately $1.9 trillion in assets, proudly serves one in three U.S. households and more than 10% of small businesses in the U.S., and is the leading middle market banking provider in the U.S. We provide a diversified set of banking, investment, and mortgage products and services, as well as consumer and commercial finance, through our four reportable operating segments: Consumer Banking and Lending, Commercial Banking, Corporate and Investment Banking, and Wealth & Investment Management. Wells Fargo ranked No. 37 on Fortune’s 2021 rankings of America’s largest corporations. In the communities we serve, the company focuses its social impact on building a sustainable, inclusive future for all by supporting housing affordability, small business growth, financial health, and a low-carbon economy. News, insights, and perspectives from Wells Fargo are also available at Wells Fargo Stories.