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My name is Scott Switalla. I was lucky enough to win the raffle that the LAFC Foundation hosted. The prize: a trip to London to go see Chelsea vs. Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge in London, England. Thank you to the LAFC Foundation for making such a trip possible. It was an experience my son and I will cherish the rest of our lives.

I received the phone call in the afternoon informing me that I had won the trip for two to London. I immediately called my wife to decide which of us was going to take our 8-year old son, Julian. You see there was never a doubt that Julian would go, Chelsea had been his favorite team since he started watching soccer (even before he started playing). My wife is very kind so she allowed me to go on the trip. That evening while I was driving Julian to his LAFC Chelsea practice at Pasadena High School, I asked him a question.

“If you could go and watch any sporting event anywhere in the world, what would you want to go and see?” He had no idea the raffle even existed.
He immediately replied, “I would go see Chelsea play, wait do they play Barcelona? But I would go watch them play in London for sure.” I asked him if Aston Villa would be ok. He jokingly said of course. It took me five minutes to get him to believe that we were actually going to go see Chelsea play in London. He was literally in tears he was so happy and excited.

Our flight left on Wednesday evening, March 24th and due to the time difference we arrived Thursday early afternoon. The hotel the LAFC Foundation booked for us was the beautiful InterContinental London Park Lane. We checked in and had to take a nap. Once we awoke, we spent the evening walking around the neighborhood and admiring the beautiful architecture of London. Next door was the Hard Rock Café and the Japanese Embassy. The hotel was also just a short walk from Buckingham Palace.

Friday morning we woke up and spent the entire day sight-seeing. A few highlights were a trip to the National Gallery. My son is a huge art fan and to see Van Gogh’s Sunflower painting in person was a true treat. We also walked around Kensington Palace and of course bought some stuff at Hamley’s Toy Store which is celebrating its 250th anniversary. We also went to Her Majesty’s Theatre, the London Tower and took a walk down Millionaire’s Row (which is now mostly foreign embassies).

Saturday was Match Day. We awoke early so we could see a few more sites. We also knew we wanted to arrive at Stamford Bridge early so we could really enjoy the experience. We actually were the first fans in the stadium, which allowed us to take some great photos. Julian was extremely excited and enjoyed all the pre-game warm-ups, etc. Aston Villa’s starting goalkeeper is Brad Friedel, an American who was the first to take the field for warm-ups. He watched as all of his favorite players went through their warm-ups. Then when the starters came out to take the field his heart dropped for a bit. He noticed immediately that Didier Drogba, his favorite player was not in the starting 11. Still, he named off all of Chelsea’s starters as they paraded onto the field. He was in heaven.

As the game kicked off it was apparent immediately that Chelsea was firing on all cylinders. Our area of the stadium, known as The Shed was loud and energetic. Julian’s second favorite player Frank Lampard opened the scoring in the 15th minute with a strike and celebrated right in front of us. It would be a special day for Lampard as he would score four goals in the match, including career goals 150 and 151, which brought him to third all-time in Chelsea history. Florent Malouda scored two goals and Salomon Kalou scored one as Chelsea dominated the match for a final score of 7-1!

It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I cannot thank the LAFC Foundation enough for the remarkable experience. Thanks to all!

13 / May / 2010  Latest News  Comments (0)
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Last month, Don Sheppard spent two weeks with professors Heather Wipfli and Kiros Berhane from USC’s Institute for Global Health touring the Tigrai region of Ethiopia. The widely respected Institute for Global Health is an LAFC Foundation partner. The two organizations are committed to addressing major health and educational problems in the Tigrai region.

The purpose of the trip was to develop a finer understanding of the challenges that Tigrai’s people are facing and strengthen bonds with local groups, most importantly, the non-profit Tigrai Development Authority. LAFC will build a soccer field in Tigrai’s capital city of Mekele. The facility will include a running track and space to distribute information and healthy foods. Ethiopia faces rising incidences of a number of diseases linked to poor nutrition and inactivity. LAFC and USC hope to transform communities surrounding the Mekele field and create a model for future projects. Below are Don Sheppard’s impressions of his time in Ethiopia.

Ethiopians are a remarkable people, welcoming, smart, ambitious and resilient.

They are not long removed from the violent civil wars that left millions of people homeless and fearing for their safety. Yet their spirit is strong. They are determined to improve their lives and see education as the best way to achieve their goals. The country is in the midst of a huge initiative that has already added countless schools and 20 new universities. The Tigrai Development Authority has been part of this effort, building schools in this Northern state bordered partly by Eritrea, another country with a stormy past. Tigrai Development is also committed to spurring higher participation in sports, better healthcare services and more job opportunities. Perhaps my most memorable experience though was of the children who followed me. They were poor but didn’t want money or food; rather they sought pens and pencils, which are in short supply and badly needed to do schoolwork.

The hotels were functional, maybe a little more at best and the food—a lot of stews and grains—was not fancy. But we were never uncomfortable. It reminded me that we can be happy with less.

Ethiopia has done an exceptional job in maintaining its roads. We traveled in sport utility vehicles and sedans on two-lane highways that were in good shape. I’ve seen more potholes in parts of Los Angeles. The countryside itself is a beautiful mosaic of farmland and forests and small mountain ranges. It is difficult to believe that large parts of the country are arid and that many Ethiopians were starving not long ago. I arrived in Ethiopia with a healthy respect for the people and left with an even greater respect and determination to help create better lives there.

13 / May / 2010  Latest News  Comments (0)
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World Health Day: Soccer for the Community offered both benefits. The health fair and soccer bonanza at the City of Huntington Park earlier this month provided over 500 Adidas soccer balls—World Cup replicas—donated by the LAFC Foundation with the help of Adidas and healthcare information, products and services that may change lives. The event drew an estimated 2,500 people from a community that ranks among the poorest in the Los Angeles area and suffers from high rates of obesity and other chronic disease associated with poverty. It was part of a weeklong initiative by health and medical programs at USC and UCLA to promote healthier living.

Earlier this year, LAFC and USC’s Institute of Global Health agreed to team up on projects combating obesity and other health problems in Mexico and Ethiopia. The groups have also been interested in Huntington Park, an East Los Angeles community where two in five children are obese. LAFC uses soccer to draw families to important healthcare, social and educational programming. It is unique among sports-based, non-profit organizations because it builds fields and other facilities that serve as community centers.

The health fair provided families with nutritious food, including Subway sandwiches, salad, carrots, fresh fruit, healthy kettle corn and Clif Bars. Special thanks to West Central Produce, Clif Bars and Rock-N-Roll Gourmet for donating their products. There was plenty of entertainment throughout the day, as people swayed to the sounds of merengue/salsa bands and Joe Munoz, former American Idol finalist and Huntington Park resident.

But soccer was the main attraction. Coaches from the LAFC soccer club staged clinics and games and distributed t-shirts and soccer balls to participants ages 5-16 who had visited at least seven tables offering healthcare materials and other resources. Players received a stamp in a Passport to Health booklet for each table that they had visited. There were 19 tables in all covering such topics as dental health, obesity and nutrition, AIDS education, respiratory ailments and alcohol and drug abuse.

“The kids all came to our coaches with the right number of stamps,” said Manny Martins, who headed the delegation of LAFC coaches and is director of girls coaching at LAFC. “Through the incentive of soccer, they were able to take advantage of the health side of things that they normally wouldn’t be able to access. It was a great atmosphere and the energy level of the kids was so high; they were easy to work with.”

13 / May / 2010  Latest News  Comments (0)