University City

This soccer team's goal is helping the area's homeless

Douji Jean is in the semifinals of Central Piedmont Community College's intramural soccer tournament and nothing about him looks out of place.

He's a recent transplant from Boston - slim, fast and 20 years old, with the fancy footwork of an agile collegiate soccer player.

But he's not in college. Not at CPCC. Not anywhere. Not yet.

He's a member of Street Soccer 945, a team of men and women who are either homeless or were recently homeless.

The team is sponsored by the Urban Ministry Center.

CPCC intramural league coordinators invited Street Soccer 945 to give the team an opportunity to play in a recreational setting, and to raise the consciousness of college students about different populations.

Street Soccer 945 is named for the address of the Urban Ministry Center on North College Street. This is the program that sends athletes to the Homeless World Cup, a soccer tournament started in 2003 in which all of the participants represent their own countries, but live on the streets.

Since 2006, cities with similar programs have sent teams to a U.S. Cup tournament. Street Soccer 945 finished second last June.

The Urban Ministry Center is a day shelter for the homeless, providing counseling, showers, laundry, and life skill programs such as art, gardening, and a choir.

Roughly 600 people use the Center's services daily.

Pete Fink volunteered at the center for a year-and-a-half before becoming its Director of Soccer in 2009. He teaches more than just passing and dribbling. Players are required to meet with him regularly, following up on three-, six-, and 12-month goals they set for themselves.

Homeless six months ago, 23-year old Antoin Huntley, the team's broad-bodied goalkeeper, and Ayoni Williams, 22, a friend he recruited on to the team, say Street Soccer 945 became part of their therapy for getting their lives on track.

"Ever since I've been with 945 and coach (Pete Fink), I've got housing, I'm working, doing good and taking care of my (fiancée and three-month old son)," Huntley said. "They taught me how to become a good, positive person, how to man up."

"Sometimes the goals are just going back to college or finishing high school," Fink says. "We give them the option that CPCC is there."

Last spring, Street Soccer 945 won the championship in CPCC's first intramural league. Since then, two of its players have enrolled in classes and Jean is also considering attending CPCC or Johnson and Wales.

Fink says there are 15-20 active players on the team. Street Soccer 945 has played in leagues through parks and recreation and a private indoor soccer facility.

Fink says the team will likely play in an indoor men's league starting in February.