2017 - Chris Solomons, YESsoccer
Chris Solomons’ passion for making a difference in communities first began on a trip to the country of Malawi in Africa as a teenager. He built youth sports programs from the ground up across impoverished communities. This experience allowed him to recognize the impact sports can have on a child by providing them with a safe, enriching, and positive environment. Since then he vowed to pursue a career in sports based youth development. Chris serves as Program Manager/Community Ambassador for YESsoccer. In 2016, he ran 600 individual free clinics in 5 different states, equaling nearly 2,000 hours of free programs for over 30,000 participants. As if that wasn’t enough, he dedicates free time to the Chicago Fire Foundation, the charitable arm of the Chicago Fire. He volunteers for their P.L.A.Y.S. (Participate, Learn, Achieve, Youth Soccer) Program, by attending practice at each of the 20 participating schools, and designed both the coaching curriculum and evaluation for the program.
2016 - Jennifer Marcello, Special Olympics Illinois
Jennifer Marcello of Special Olympics Illinois represents the Chicago Fire as a contest finalist in the 2016 MLS WORKS Community MVP contest. Marcello has worked with Special Olympics Illinois in different capacities over the last 20 years, and has been instrumental in the growth and expansion of the Chicago Fire Unified Soccer All-Star Team over the last two seasons. Under Marcello's watch, opportunities for local youth with and without intellectual disabilities to participate and compete have expanded throughout the state.
2015 - Rob Castaneda, Beyond the Ball
Rob Castaneda, executive director of Beyond the Ball and a trailblazer in the Sport for Development sector, was named the 2015 Chicago Fire Community MVP and a finalist for the MLS WORKS Community MVP contest.
Castaneda, a former high school soccer player, resides in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, which has the youngest per capita population in all of the city but has the least amount of green space for children to play. In addition, the neighborhood is combatting social issues like gang violence, poverty and low achievement rates. In 2013, Rob was instrumental in lobbying both local and national organizations for a new artificial turf soccer field to replace the dangerous dirt field that often was the cause of injuries. A year after the new field was built, Rob’s organization, Beyond the Ball, partnered with other local organizations, including the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, to launch Premier Skills, the British Council and Premier League’s global soccer for good program.
In its pilot year and with Rob’s tireless efforts, Premier Skills has reached over 400 young people, providing free after-school soccer programming three nights a week, year-round. Premier Skills sessions are run by community coaches from Little Village alongside Chicago Fire community coaches. Rob also supported the delivery of Premier Skills Community Coach training, helping to recruit 40 grassroots coaches and youth workers from across Chicago, who were trained to plan and deliver safe and inclusive community soccer sessions and coach in challenging urban environments.