Dynamo Charities, like many non-profit organizations around the country, faced daunting challenges in 2020. Marquee events were canceled, legacy projects were postponed and months of planning to celebrate 13 years in Houston were scrapped.
Valerie Holland, Director of Community Relations and Dynamo Charities, responded to the curveballs by coordinating and executing one of the most active periods in the history of the foundation. The Dynamo and Dash averaged more than two appearances a week in 2020 and finished with 135 appearances last year. More than $50,000 in charitable donations and equipment was donated to organizations throughout the Houston area like the Boys and Girls Clubs of Houston, Kids Meals of Houston and local schools.
The impact was felt beyond financial contributions as players and staff came together to volunteer around the city and combined for more than 600 hours across various projects.
This was still not enough. Inspired by the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Holland looked to reintroduce the Club’s community efforts and integrate them deeper into the fabric of a Club that was internally defining a new cycle, a new identity.
"I think it was a really exciting opportunity, not only for Dynamo Charities, but for the Club in general. It gave us a fresh start to realign what the values were of both the Club and the foundation,” Holland said. “So, being a bigger part of what the organization's views are now is exciting and having it be one of the biggest parts of our rebrand - really helped to showcase that we are committed to this project."
The new identity that Houston Dynamo FC launched in November also includes a new logo for Dynamo Charities. The first update since the original artwork debuted in 2008, the inaugural year of the foundation. The foundation has faced many challenges since 2008, but none more intimidating than converting its entire platform to a virtual space.
Dynamo Charities and programs like its Soccer Starts at Home have virtual elements, but in-person programs like early education, Science of Soccer (STEM Education) and the Unified Special Olympics program were converted to meet the needs of the community.
"I think 2020 was a challenge, but also an opportunity. It showed us how we could diversify what we do and keep going. Even when we find ourselves in a situation we wouldn't consider normal. We can create a new normal,” Holland said. “I think 2020 taught us all that we have to figure it out, adjust and reacclimate. I think we have a lot of the virtual elements ready, and it will be interesting to see how we continue those in 2021, and hopefully that grows into something bigger.”
Holland is preparing for every scenario possible and will focus primarily on the virtual elements of the programs offered by Dynamo Charities to kick off 2021. Its reach includes 25 schools in HISD who participate in the Science of Soccer program. Additionally, the Soccer Starts at Home program reaches students in Harris County, Fort Bend County, Spring, KIPP Connect Academies, the Avance Early Childhood Program and Houston Park and Recreation District.
Ideally, as the country moves past the pandemic Holland hopes to add in-person events that were fan-favorites, like the charity golf tournament at Topgolf. Additionally, she hopes to return to in-person appearances so fans can meet their favorite Dash and Dynamo players around the city. Players from both teams have played a large role in the success and expansion of Dynamo Charities in 2020.
“We have always received support from the players, but I think in an unprecedented year like 2020, we had even more support. Our players on both the Dash and Dynamo side realized that everyone is in a strange spot and they have a platform, they have a voice, and they can help us amplify everything we want to do in the community,” Holland said. “Everything was just magnified in 2020, because that spirit to be there for your neighbor was present around the country.
There was a spirt of asking what are you doing to help others? Looking into 2021, we want to continue that.” Dynamo players like Zarek Valentin answered the call when he led an effort to collect food and donations for local families impacted by the pandemic. The Dynamo defender raised $18,300 in December for the Houston Food Bank and filled a box truck following a drive-thru event at BBVA Stadium.
Katie Naughton, only one year into her career with the Dash, was among the most active Dash players in 2020. From volunteer events with children and visits to M.D. Anderson, the NWSL Challenge Cup champion was often giving back to others. Jane Campbell donated 500 soccer balls to community groups and is one of the biggest advocates for the Boys and Girls Club of Houston.
The work continues as the next project prepares for a new chapter.
One of the marquee projects following the launch of the Houston Dynamo FC rebrand was a $15,000 donation of gear and equipment to Yates High School. Dynamo Charities played a significant role in helping reestablish the boy and girls soccer programs at Yates after they were shut down in 2013.
The donation was just the beginning, Dynamo legend and Dynamo Academy Coach Ricardo Clark designed the training curriculum for both programs. The groundkeeper team from BBVA Stadium and Houston Sports Park gave the Yates football field a makeover that would rival any pitch in the city. All so that both teams can prepare for their first game of the season on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at Barnett Stadium.
"Building up for the rebrand in November, what was really exciting was to see an idea and an opportunity that came to us earlier in the year and for it to really start to take fruition and flow,” Holland said. “When HISD reached out and Yates High School came to us back in June to see what kind of help we might be able to provide. To turn it into what we did during the rebrand, with donating more than $15,000 in equipment and gear to both programs at Yates High School was huge. adidas was a huge partner with the donations they made and then working with local rap legend and philanthropist Trae Tha Truth, having him be a part of it as well - that was really fun.”
“Watching all of that unfold over the final months of the year and being able to really have a big-impact community project to end 2020, which was a crazy year all around was really great. I’m excited to see where this goes, we have to build on that in 2021 and I’m excited to see what this year brings.”