Local Airman distributes soccer balls to kids in Southwest Asia –
By Patricia Beech –
When Air Force Senior Airman Timothy Curtis Jones, a Peebles High School graduate, was deployed to Southwest Asia, a chance encounter with a group of local children left him wanting to do something to make a difference for the kids and their community.
“I had a loose idea that I wanted to start something out here, but I didn’t know what, or where I wanted to go with it,” Jones told John Pranjic during a recent podcast interview.
He discovered his cause during a trip to a local airfield.
“We saw some kids playing soccer with an old beat up soccer ball,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was even allowed to talk to them, but I walked over and pointed to my feet and a kid tossed me the ball. I juggled it a bit and kicked it back.”
Jones, a former college soccer player, says the outcome of the meeting surprised both him and the kids.
“It caught them off guard that I knew their game,” he says. “On the ride back to the installation, it hit me. I decided I wanted to bring soccer to these kids.”
Jones began contacting companies, old friends, and old coaches. He even started a GoFundme page to raise money for purchasing new and used soccer gear, as well as personal hygiene products for the kids.
“Those items are very hard to come by over here,” he says. “Most people here are severely impoverished. They don’t have the resources we do, not even close to what the lowest income citizens in the United States have.”
With assistance, Jones was able to transform a large, trash-covered concrete lot into a soccer field for the kids.
“We now have a field with permanent lines and permanent goals because we’ve partnered with good companies who have helped us out,” he says.
While Jones admits he was “nervous about playing on concrete”, he says, “You can tell these kids grew up on it, it’s evident in their style of play. They have really quick foot work and they’re gritty, physical players who are used to falling on a hard surface.”
His chance encounter with the children led Jones to start the PASS Project, a grassroots initiative that works closely with other military support groups. Through the PASS Project Jones has not only renovated a soccer court at the area’s local elementary school, he has also collected over 1,000 hygiene products valued at nearly $3,000, distributed 600 soccer balls, and collected approximately $5,000.
“Providing locals with these items will improve quality of life, help build community relations, and foster open-minded and inclusive attitudes for service members and locals alike,” Jones wrote on his Instagram account, adding, “Along with collecting and distributing these items, my eventual goal is to spend time with local adults and youth. We will share, educate, and learn together, all while using soccer as our unifying element.”
Jones’s PASS Project is based on four basic ideas: Positivity – Using soccer as a vehicle for positive change; Ambassadors – Being good ambassadors for the sport and for the service; Sharing – sharing our resources to positively impact the underprivileged; and Support – Offering support can have a lasting impact on people’s lives and foster good relationships and experiences.
The young airman’s compassion comes as no surprise to those who know him.
“He’s always loved kids and he’s always loved soccer,” says his grandmother, Shirley Naylor, who resides in Winchester. “It’s not surprising he would find a way to use the game to help children.”
According to Jones, a thriving soccer culture was already in existence, but there were no resources to support organized programs.
“You see signs of soccer everywhere around here,” he says. “When I leave the installation, I take soccer balls with me to hand out whereever kids are playing.”
While fans are starting to show up at the renovated field to watch the kids play pickup soccer games, Jones says he tries not to over-coach.
“I try not to dictate too much,” he says. “I want everyone to participate and have fun. It’s not every day a foreigner shows up and makes a field where you can play.”