One Goal in Mind: Paving the way for low-income youth to play soccer

March 22, 2024

Joseph Dadara ’18

The sport of soccer has always provided a refuge for Joseph Dadara ’18. When he was in middle school, his family emigrated from Tanzania to the U.S. and settled in Aurora. Soccer was a way to fit in and stay out of trouble. But it was expensive—the uniforms, the dues, the travel. His parents were busy looking for work and trying to make ends meet. He competed in local soccer clubs, but ultimately the cost became prohibitive.

“I wanted to play, but it wasn’t something I could do,” he said.

These days, Dadara spends his after-work hours serving as soccer director at the Aurora Township Youth Center and the Aurora Eagles Soccer Club, an organization he and a handful of community organizers created with the township to offer local youth the chance to compete with travel soccer clubs across the region without it taking a financial toll.

Dadara, who majored in Finance, works in accounts management for Oak Brook–based Athletico Physical Therapy. He said building the youth soccer organization has felt more like a calling. He spends seven days a week at the club and heads there every day after work. On weekends, he hangs out with players, listening to music, practicing one-on-one, leading scrimmages, and attending team outings. Recently, the soccer players visited the Riverwalk in downtown Chicago and volunteered with a neighborhood nonprofit.

“A lot of times, the kids are overlooked and would end up hanging with the wrong crowds,” he said. “We try to catch them early and get them involved.”

For many of the participants, Dadara serves not only as a soccer coach but as a mentor.

By spending time with the team, he helps the players, many of whom come from low-income backgrounds, to find their way both on and off the field. Often, he speaks to newly arrived immigrants about the challenges of adjusting to life in the U.S. And he encourages the players to get their education and apply to college.

With the support of Aurora Township, the Aurora Eagles Soccer Club officially launched in 2017. In the past six years, the club has grown to include 350 players ages 7 to 23. The township covers the cost of equipment and transportation and provides the soccer fields. Local organizations donate funds to offset additional fees for the players.

“Our goal was to put a system in place so we can provide almost-free opportunities,” he said. “A lot of the kids that we deal with cannot go to other soccer clubs and pay.”

Through the club, players have gotten exposure to college coaches looking to recruit student-athletes. Year over year, an increasing number of Eagles go on to play at the college level, including for AU.

As the organization grows, Dadara is determined to give each player a sense of belonging while continuing to build the kind of welcoming soccer community that he only dreamed of as a teen. Thanks in part to his hard work, the players don’t have to face the obstacles that he did to play a sport they love.

“It feels great to see how far it’s come,” he said. “A lot of the kids we deal with are developing into really good people, and the fact that they can play soccer at a high level is just a plus. I see myself in them. I was exactly like these kids, and having gone through the same experience—that’s why I do this.”

This story is an excerpt from the fall/winter 2023 issue of AU Magazine. Click here to read the full story about five alumni spending their time, experience, and enthusiasm giving back to the communities that helped them along the way.