“A Remarkable Model”: How DC SCORES and D.C. United Are Building a “Poet-Athlete City”

Untitled design (2).png D.C. United and DC SCORES are making a difference for thousands of young people across the District.

“DC SCORES allows us to create the change we want to see in our city,” says Shanell Mosley. As D.C. United’s Director of Community Relations and Executive Director of the D.C. United Foundation, Mosley leads the Major League Soccer club’s efforts to build stronger communities through the power of sport, and she is reflecting on the power of D.C. United’s collaboration with DC SCORES.

The partnership has enabled D.C. United to “put community at the center of everything,” she says.

In 2015, the D.C. United and DC SCORES signed an official community partnership agreement that cemented the professional soccer club’s support for the nonprofit’s award-winning soccer, poetry, and service-learning afterschool program. The historic agreement also ushered in an era of impact that resonates within DC communities today.

“The partnership has become a gold standard for how sports teams can truly invest in their local communities,” says Katrina Owens, Executive Director of DC SCORES.

“Working with D.C. United has elevated our fundraising efforts, built meaningful corporate partnerships, and, together, provide opportunities for more than 3,000 kids in DC SCORES to engage with their soccer heroes,” Owens adds. “Ours is truly a remarkable model.”

“Subject Matter Experts”

When D.C. United first joined forces with DC SCORES, the professional soccer team was preparing to construct its new stadium, Audi Field, at Buzzard Point in southwest DC.

“In some ways, the partnership was a product of perfect timing,” says Tony Francavilla, Chief Development Officer at DC SCORES. “DC SCORES was looking to expand to the schools on our ever-growing waitlist just when D.C. United sought to make deeper connections with the local community as they built a new home in the District.”

Commitment to community is a prerequisite for a team that “plays within the city, for the city,” says Mosley, who also serves as a DC SCORES board member. To ensure their work is sustainable, Mosley and her team identify community partners who can serve as “subject matter experts” to effectively channel D.C. United’s substantial platform and resources into genuine impact.

1-f528e9.png D.C. United midfielder Chris Durkin takes part in a soccer match with poet-athletes at Brightwood Elementary School, where the DC SCORES program is sponsored by D.C. United partner CareFirst.

DC SCORES’ deep roots in the District made the nonprofit a natural partner. For almost thirty years, tens of thousands of young people have participated in its program, fostering community on their soccer teams, exploring issues they care about through their poetry, and addressing those issues through team-based service-learning projects.

“DC SCORES was founded in 1994, just a year before D.C. United, and for the last three decades, we’ve been building generations of poet-athletes who care about their schools, who love their neighborhood, and who serve as agents of change in their communities,” says Owens.

A Reciprocal Relationship

From its inception in 2015, the D.C. United-DC SCORES partnership focused on expanding to new schools. Since then, DC SCORES has more than doubled the number of poet-athletes it serves and tripled the number of corporate partners invested in its work.

“There’s no doubt that D.C. United has been a fundraising, marketing, and programmatic game-changer for us,” says Francavilla.

Every school day, DC SCORES poet-athletes attend soccer or writing practices in jerseys emblazoned with D.C. United’s logo, many at schools where D.C. United’s corporate partners sponsor DC SCORES program costs.

Poet-athletes are also regular attendees at D.C. United games. At almost every home match, DC SCORES teams fill Audi Field’s Section 138, referred to as the Juniors Supporters Section, thanks to an initiative in collaboration with the club’s supporters group, The Screaming Eagles. This, says Owens, has been empowering for DC SCORES youth. “Many of our kids would never have been able to visit Audi Field without this,” says Owens. “When they sit in that section, and see the DC SCORES banner, they feel like this is a home for them, that this stadium and this team is theirs.”

2-79ebc7.png D.C. United defender Donovan Pines recites a poem on the One Night One Goal poetry stage in 2022.

D.C. United sponsors many of DC SCORES’ signature events, including its middle school soccer championships, which are held under the lights at Audi Field, and One Night One Goal, DC SCORES’ biggest annual fundraiser, which is co-hosted by D.C. United captain Steve Birnbaum.

And the partnership has brought benefits for D.C. United, too. The club’s relationship with DC SCORES runs so deep that the nonprofit is the fiscal sponsor of the D.C. United Foundation and the partnership is a significant draw for companies that seek to incorporate community impact into their relationships with D.C. United.

“D.C. United has been a bridge between DC SCORES and corporate partners, such as CareFirst and Pepco,” says Mosley, “and it’s amazing because it gives these partners an organic touch point to become DC SCORES super fans, just like we are.”

Building a “Poet-Athlete City”

Both organizations have already seen the fruits of their transformational work in DC.

“DC SCORES is teaching kids how to use their platforms to create the change they want to see in their communities,” Mosley says. “Athletes, teams, leagues have a responsibility to do good and make a difference,” she adds, “D.C. United has a unique platform to inspire people.”

And, she says, the inspiration flows both ways. One of Mosley’s favorite DC SCORES memories is from One Night One Goal in 2022 when D.C. United player Donovan Pines recited several poems in front of an audience that included many of his teammates.

3-b9e7b2.png DC SCORES poet-athletes pose with Talon, the D.C. United mascot, at Audi Field Kids’ Day last summer. Shanell Mosley is pictured far right, and Katrina Owens second from left.

Mosley says, “Our players performing or sharing vulnerable stories about what it’s like being a pro on and off the pitch gives poet-athletes new perspectives and creates experiences that young people, and our players, will always remember.”

“In the long run, we want DC to be known as the poet-athlete city,” Francavilla says. “D.C. United embodies the poet-athlete ethos by showing up for their community, and there is no better way to spread the word about what we do than by practicing it.”

As Mosley looks to the partnership’s future, she hopes to continue working towards the vision the organizations set out in 2015: to reach more schools and communities. “In a dream scenario, this program would be available for all young people in the District who desire to be part of DC SCORES,” she says.

“I’m just so passionate about what DC SCORES does,” Mosley continues, “I’m grateful that we have an incredible partner doing incredible work within the DC community.”

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