One of this year’s Sport for Social Change Awardees being honored on May 20th at the Organization of American States during the benefit for Street Soccer USA, is Zachary Leonsis. Zach, the son Ted and Lynn Leonsis and brother to sister Elle, is a student at the University of Pennsylvania and set to graduate in 2011.Ã‚Â Perhaps following in his parents’ footsteps who have carved a path for hard work, integrity, diligence, perseverance, and a true care for humanity, Zach who currently works for SnagFilms in Content Distribution on his off time, spent the summer of 2008 as a volunteer for Street Soccer USA.
When I had an opportunity to talk with SSUSA Founder & CEO, Lawrence Cann about Zach, he said, “What Zach accomplished that summer, his positive can-do attitude, and work ethic was outstanding.Ã‚Â He helped us so much.Ã‚Â He went above and beyond consistently and was such a pleasure to work with.Ã‚Â Zach is so deserving of this award.Ã‚Â I’m so excited to be able to honor him to thank him.”
Ted Leonsis, the class act family man who is legendary not only in Washington, DC, and whose impact has stretched far and wide (not only because of the CAPS!) but because of his progressive thinking at AOL, Web 2.0, social media, philanthropy, entrepreneurship, documentary filmmaking, “filmanthropy”, sports team ownership, and even happiness (he’s published now), is also truly humble. When I sent him a Facebook message to thank him for the generous attention he’s given SSUSA, he pshawed it, by remarking his son Zach was the one who truly deserved the gratitude.
It was time to catch up with Zach and find out a bit more about this young man who has touched so many lives positively in such a short time.Ã‚Â With no doubt, this gentleman will continue great work after graduation…
Pamela’s Punch: How and when did you first get introduced to Street Soccer USA?
Zach Leonsis: I was first introduced to Street Soccer USA in 2008 when my father produced a documentary film on the Homeless World Cup named, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Kicking It!Ã¢â‚¬Â When my Dad first explained to me what the documentary, and more importantly, what the charity was all about I became very excited. I was introduced to Lawrence Cann and before I knew it, I was working on event planning for the 2008 USA Homeless Cup in Washington DC.
PP: What was your role with SSUSA and how did you choose that particular role?
ZL: I played the role of an event planner for the 2008 USA Homeless Cup. I helped to coordinate on-site sponsorships, on-site food and beverage vending, basic living accommodations for players, site construction and basically whatever else I was asked to do. I never asked Lawrence for a specific role. I just told him that I would be more than willing to help out with whatever he needed, no matter how big or how small.
PP: Obviously you are deserving of this award because of the depth and breadth of participation.Ã‚Â What caused you to become so involved?
ZL: I guess I can tell you that it was hard not to become involved! The work was just so rewarding and the charity itself is just spectacular, so I never felt short on motivation. It made it especially easy working with such talented and passionate people as well. Lawrence Cann, Jeremy Goldberg, Rick Allen, and many others are not just incredibly hard working people, but theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re also very good people. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s easy to work hard towards a common goal when you work with a great team or have a great boss who you admire.
PP: Can you share with us some of the most memorable stories during your time with SSUSA?
ZL: Well I certainly have a couple! I remember the day before the tournament, Lawrence asked me to look on Craigslist for some couches that we could buy. We wanted to bring in some comfy seating to create a comfortable players lounge for teams that were in between games. I found five or six cheap couches around Maryland, DC, and Virginia, rented a UHAUL, and went to go pick them all up. I think I put about 350 miles on that UHAUL in one day. When I think about how much I drove that day it makes me laugh. I must have driven around the whole beltway twice picking up old couches!
By the end of the tournament I remember attending a premiere of my fatherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s film Ã¢â‚¬Å“Kicking It!Ã¢â‚¬Â I had already seen the film many times before, but I brought a couple of my friends with and we sat quietly in the back of the theatre. The theatre was packed with all of the attending players and coaches. I was so drained after getting up so early and running around all day that I nearly fell asleep in that dark theatre. My Dad still makes fun of me for that one. Definitely a good day of hard work.
My best memories though have got to be my experiences with the players themselves. It was one thing to plan parts of an event and get things organized, but it was another to know that I was working for other people- most notably the hundreds of homeless who participated in the tournament. I got to know many of them over the weekend and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m hoping IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be catching up with some of them soon!
PP: As a young person, you follow in the great footsteps of activists and philanthropists (like your parents).Ã‚Â How would you encourage your peers to become active in the non-profit world?
ZL: I think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s as simple as asking yourself what you would like to do with your time. Do you want to look back on your day and remember all of the things you did to waste the day away? Or do you want to look back and remember all of the productive things that you were a part of? Hopefully, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not a hard question to answer for people my age.
PP: How have you seen SSUSA change the lives of those with whom you worked directly?
ZL: Absolutely. The hope that SSUSA brings to those who, at one time, might not have had any, is what makes the difference. The charity is not just about soccer. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s about giving people purpose and hope. When a person has purpose and hope, they can work hard and work their way out of a bad situation. People without purpose or hope donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have a very bright future.
PP: SSUSA uses “sport for social change”. Were you an athlete as well?Ã‚Â If so, how can you relate the components of sports in your world to those of social change?
ZL: I played hockey, golf, and baseball while growing up and in high school, and I see the correlation between social change and sport in the way that a team works. Teams have a higher purpose. They strive together, as a unit, to achieve a specific goal. All individual players contribute to the good of the team as a whole. A team has purpose and a team has hope. When people are part of a team, they can feel that they are working towards something greater than just themselves. Social change requires participants to feel that they are working themselves towards a higher calling. Sport can do that.
PP: You are the “future of America” truly.Ã‚Â What plans do you have during school to continue to impact the community and perhaps world? Any plans after graduation?
ZL: IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve stayed in touch with Lawrence and have held a charity soccer event at my school, the University of Pennsylvania. We were able to raise a couple of thousand dollars for SSUSA. As far as after graduation though, I look forward to heading home to DC and possibly becoming involved in public service.
Thank you Zach for your time and congratulations again to you ….
Learn more and support Zach at the May 20th event: http://www.streetsoccerusa.org/