Kay Rawlins saw a need in her community and brought the power of her Major League Soccer club to bear in fighting obesity. As founder and vice president for community relations at Orlando City SC, Rawlins said the club noticed that many of the young kids attending the Orlando City SC soccer camps fit into at-risk categories, and they immediately began discussing ways to combat the condition and provide educational opportunities.
“When we realized that the children we were coaching were some of the most vulnerable to becoming obese, we knew we had to do something. We talked to various partners and the City of Orlando and came up with a plan,” Rawlins said. “The first community garden was built on Earth Day just a few weeks ago and involved not only the community who were going to use the garden but also our fans, our corporate partners and the guys building our new stadium.”
Gathering on April 22, 2016 in the Rock Lake neighborhood of Orlando, Kay and her husband Phil led a team of volunteers from the soccer club as well as Orlando City fans in building wooden beds and planting vegetables.
“This project has brought the community together and the children have been involved too, choosing what to plant and learning how to look after their garden. There are workshops planned on a variety of topics and cooking classes to learn healthy ways to prepare the produce. What makes this even better is that the next new mini pitch is being built right next to the community garden.”
Mini pitches are a key part of the plan, creating an equation between the healthy activity provided by soccer and the availability of fresh vegetables in the nearby community garden. The Orlando City Foundation are also currently planning another community garden and mini-pitch in Parramore, a community that has been identified as a “food desert” due to the lack of access to fresh fruit and vegetables in an area dominated by convenience stores.
Through the Foundation, Orlando City works to promote healthy lifestyles, and the organization’s outreach on healthy living extends beyond the community gardening and mini-pitches. Rawlins and her club lead a full program for young players called Soccer for Success, which operates three times a week and provides a road map to building healthy bodies.
“The program involves 60 minutes of vigorous exercise/soccer skills and 30 minutes of nutrition education and healthy lifestyle choices,” she said. “We track the children in the program through a national database and monitor speed, agility, BMI, waist circumference, school attendance, GPA plus anecdotal evidence from coaches and teachers. Our mission is to use the sport of soccer to promote a healthy lifestyle that enables children and families to reach their full potential.”
Before Kay and Phil Rawlins moved to Austin in 2004, Kay operated two preschools in her native Great Britain. In Austin, she worked with two nonprofits before the Rawlins’s relocated to Orlando in 2011 to start the Orlando City SC. In addition to their work with Soccer for Success, they are also heading up a task force to help the chronically homeless in Orlando.
The Orlando City Foundation funds three local nonprofits and also provides small grants to youth soccer organizations. Kay Rawlins’ work as president of the foundation and vice president for community relations means keeping all aspects of the Orlando City SC’s benevolent programs in play.
“Our soccer programs run every day so I receive regular reports,” she said. “My typical day is a mixture of community relations which means overseeing requests for player appearances and auction items and any other community outreach we are involved in. On the Foundation side, we organize 4 events per year, all of which involve either silent auction, live auction or raffle prizes, and we meet with a lot of local non-profits to see if there are ways to partner.”