The pandemic has prevented so many children from doing what kids need to do: play together, talk (and sometimes argue) together, connect, and re-connect.

“Coming out of COVID-19, I was in my house for like two years,” says middle-schooler Abdillahi Omer. “I didn’t really know how to communicate that well with people.”

Omer is a regular at Rosati Leadership Academy in Lewiston, a nonprofit that’s getting support from Bates soccer players as it uses the game of soccer (specifically, futsal, a fast-paced version game played on a hard surface) to teach a range of life lessons such as leadership, resilience, mindfulness, empathy, and inclusivity.

“Now I’m starting to build up my communication skills,” Omer says. Indeed, at Rosati, youngsters learning more than how to kick and pass a soccer ball. Another Rosati regular, Abdiaziz Mohamed, shares that he had a habit of getting angry and “not listening to my teachers. But when I came here I just changed — my anger just went down.”

Video by Aaron Morse/Bates College

For the youngsters at Rosati, mentoring and life lessons often come from Bates students, who have received support from the college’s Harward Center for Community Partnerships.

When men’s soccer senior captain Alec Szwarcewicz ’23 of Newton, Mass. transferred to Bates in 2019, he knew he wanted to get involved with youth soccer in Lewiston. He soon connected with Rosati.

“I immediately fell in love with the environment,” he says. “Kids absolutely love soccer, and the mutual respect that everyone had for each other was really awesome to see.”

When Noah Riskind ’16 returned to Lewiston as an assistant soccer coach two years ago, Szwarcewicz recruited him as a Rosati volunteer.

“Within the game of soccer there are so many difficult moments,” says Riskind, now the Bobcats’ interim head coach and the assistant director of Rosati. “How do you react when the ref makes a bad call? How do you react when you’re having difficulties with your own teammates, and you disagree with them?”

Tife Agunloye ’25 of Monroe, Conn., is another Bates student helping to provide answers to those “how do you?” questions.

Just as many of the youngsters at Rosati are part of families who are new to the U.S., Agunloye’s own family is originally from Nigeria. “It’s great to teach them things I wish I could have been taught when I was younger,” he says.

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