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When  Josh Kaplan was a kid, he had a pretty hard time fitting in.

“I had a terrible stutter,” he says. “I really struggled to make friends.”

Finally, Kaplan opened up to his parents about the difficulty he was having with classmates at school.


“They said, ‘Why don’t we sign you up for a soccer team?’” Kaplan says. And that decision changed everything.

“I discovered that you don’t have to be a leader who speaks,” he says. “You can lead with action instead.”

Kaplan's realization changed his perception of what he had to offer. As he got better at soccer, he got better at making friends too.

All photos via Josh Kaplan, used with permission.

But still something bothered him.

“One of my teammates had a brother with Down’s syndrome, and I noticed that he was kicking the ball around by himself on the sidelines,” Kaplan says. “I discovered that he played soccer alone because he didn’t have a team to play on.”

Soccer had helped Josh fit in — now he realized he could help others do the same thing.

“I had all the tools and skills necessary to share soccer with kids who weren’t able to experience the joy of the beautiful game,” he says.

He launched GOALS, which stands for Giving Opportunities to All who Love Soccer.

GOALS pairs up neurotypical kids and kids with disabilities to play in noncompetitive soccer scrimmages. Buddies, or kids without disabilities, work to make sure that all the athletes have an opportunity to play. In doing so, GOALS gives socially isolated kids an opportunity to make friends, learn about soccer, and be part of a team.

But it wasn’t always easy. In fact, Kaplan's first organized game was almost a failure.

Kaplan spent weeks emailing and cold-calling pediatricians, special needs groups, and parent advocacy groups to find kids interested in participating in the game. He received an overwhelmingly positive response, and over 40 kids signed up to play.

“But when it was time to play, only nine kids showed up,” Kaplan remembers. “I was so disappointed and even a little embarrassed.”

He was faced with a choice: give up or play the game. “I realized that those nine kids wanted to play soccer, and I couldn’t let them down,” he says. Now GOALS has grown to involve hundreds of children — but it all started with that first small scrimmage.

The games afford kids an amazing opportunity to understand and interact with kids who might be different from them.

Kids both with and without disabilities walk away from GOALS having gained new experiences and skills.

“The players who don’t have an intellectual disability, getting them to encounter someone who does have an intellectual disability teaches them really important skills,” Josh says, like patience, compassion, dedication, cooperation, and teamwork.

The athletes with disabilities learn something a bit more pragmatic — like becoming comfortable with interactions with other kids their age.

“Oftentimes a lot of kids with intellectual disabilities are isolated socially," Kaplan says. "Developing those key social skills and communication skills is really important."

Most importantly, though, is the fact that everyone gets a chance to play, interact, and be part of a team.

"Feeling valued and accepted is one of the most important aspects of GOALS," says Kaplan. Playing together, kids don't just make teammates — they make friends for life, friends they may not have had the opportunity to make otherwise.

Kaplan's philosophy is that sports helps people communicate in a new way, one that works for people of all abilities. That's why GOALS isn't just an organization for kids with disabilities. It's a program for the whole community, a community that includes people of all different abilities.

Soccer may just be a game, but with GOALS, it becomes so much more than that.

"Through sports," Kaplan says, "anyone can communicate that each of us is valued, each of us is a part of the team, and each of us is a friend worth having.”

All images provided by Bombas

We can all be part of the giving movement

True

We all know that small acts of kindness can turn into something big, but does that apply to something as small as a pair of socks?

Yes, it turns out. More than you might think.

A fresh pair of socks is a simple comfort easily taken for granted for most, but for individuals experiencing homelessness—they are a rare commodity. Currently, more than 500,000 people in the U.S. are experiencing homelessness on any given night. Being unstably housed—whether that’s couch surfing, living on the streets, or somewhere in between—often means rarely taking your shoes off, walking for most if not all of the day, and having little access to laundry facilities. And since shelters are not able to provide pre-worn socks due to hygienic reasons, that very basic need is still not met, even if some help is provided. That’s why socks are the #1 most requested clothing item in shelters.

homelessness, bombasSocks are a simple comfort not everyone has access to

When the founders of Bombas, Dave Heath and Randy Goldberg, discovered this problem, they decided to be part of the solution. Using a One Purchased = One Donated business model, Bombas helps provide not only durable, high-quality socks, but also t-shirts and underwear (the top three most requested clothing items in shelters) to those in need nationwide. These meticulously designed donation products include added features intended to offer comfort, quality, and dignity to those experiencing homelessness.

Over the years, Bombas' mission has grown into an enormous movement, with more than 75 million items donated to date and a focus on providing support and visibility to the organizations and people that empower these donations. These are the incredible individuals who are doing the hard work to support those experiencing —or at risk of—homelessness in their communities every day.

Folks like Shirley Raines, creator of Beauty 2 The Streetz. Every Saturday, Raines and her team help those experiencing homelessness on Skid Row in Los Angeles “feel human” with free makeovers, haircuts, food, gift bags and (thanks to Bombas) fresh socks. 500 pairs, every week.

beauty 2 the streetz, skid row laRaines is out there helping people feel their beautiful best

Or Director of Step Forward David Pinson in Cincinnati, Ohio, who offers Bombas donations to those trying to recover from addiction. Launched in 2009, the Step Forward program encourages participation in community walking/running events in order to build confidence and discipline—two major keys to successful rehabilitation. For each marathon, runners are outfitted with special shirts, shoes—and yes, socks—to help make their goals more achievable.

step forward, helping homelessness, homeless non profitsRunning helps instill a sense of confidence and discipline—two key components of successful recovery

Help even reaches the Front Street Clinic of Juneau, Alaska, where Casey Ploof, APRN, and David Norris, RN give out free healthcare to those experiencing homelessness. Because it rains nearly 200 days a year there, it can be very common for people to get trench foot—a very serious condition that, when left untreated, can require amputation. Casey and Dave can help treat trench foot, but without fresh, clean socks, the condition returns. Luckily, their supply is abundant thanks to Bombas. As Casey shared, “people will walk across town and then walk from the valley just to come here to get more socks.”

step forward clinic, step forward alaska, homelessness alaskaWelcome to wild, beautiful and wet Alaska!

The Bombas Impact Report provides details on Bombas’s mission and is full of similar inspiring stories that show how the biggest acts of kindness can come from even the smallest packages. Since its inception in 2013, the company has built a network of over 3,500 Giving Partners in all 50 states, including shelters, nonprofits and community organizations dedicated to supporting our neighbors who are experiencing- or at risk- of homelessness.

Their success has proven that, yes, a simple pair of socks can be a helping hand, an important conversation starter and a link to humanity.

You can also be a part of the solution. Learn more and find the complete Bombas Impact Report by clicking here.

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