When Lusenii Watson – or Coach Lu as he’s known on the west side of Atlanta – is asked about the impact he’s made to kids in the city, he brings up Jibri Flood. He lives in Centennial Place, but travels to participate in the soccer program on the west side.
During the recently ended school year, Jibri was struggling in math and was on the brink of repeating the 8th grade. Watson got involved an assisted him in both passing the class and getting promoted to the 9th grade. But that’s just the type of kid Coach Lu’s youth outreach program, FirstWorks Soccer Program, is designed for: helping the youth in one of Atlanta’s most impoverished areas learn the life skills to succeed in live through the game of soccer.
“The reason why I was able to pass my math class was because I had to sit out of practice to get my work done first,” Jibri says. “At FirstWorks, we don’t just play soccer, we build character. So if one of our teammates fall, we pick them back up, and we also learn to trust one another.”
Now 14 years old, Jibri has a debit card and ID, and is the captain of Coach Lu’s Westside Warriors soccer team. He is learning the discipline of having a job and earning a small living while he’s at it as a referee in local soccer leagues. Most importantly, he’s thriving academically at Grady High School.
“I’m positive there are more Jibris on the west-side of Atlanta,” Lusenii says.
Jibri is one of the dozens of kids from low-income families who have had their lives changed forever by FirstWorks Soccer. Coach Lu takes a personal interest in every player, helping them with homework or finding career opportunities. He quit his full-time job to focus on FirstWorks, and in its three years of serving on the west side (two as City of Refuge Soccer Director), his influence has reached over 200 youths through his community travel teams, as director of City of Refuge Soccer program and through engagement with neighborhood schools and City of Atlanta’s Park and Recreation. And he wants to help even more.
That’s where you come in. Coach Lu is Atlanta United’s nominee for the MLS Works Community MVP Contest, an online contest honoring the people making an impact in their local communities through soccer. The nominee with the most votes will win $25,000, which Coach Lu says he will put toward installing a soccer field for kids to use on the west side, as well as purchase a van to help launch the first travel team in the community and expand the program from 27 to more than 40 kids. He’ll also be recognized for all his hard work at the MLS All-Star game later this summer.
“This is a passion of mine,” Coach Lu said. “In addition to the teams, I am certifying players as referees and being a resource for parents on our team to help them out of poverty. My goal is to develop very sound and competent players on the west side.”
To cast your ballot, click the button below. Voting is now open and will remain open until August 2nd. Only you can help Coach Lu make a difference to even more children on Atlanta’s west side.