Here at Bootbags we give back And what follows is how I ended up in Jamaica donating cleats back to kids in the heart of Kingston at the start of this year with the help of some incredible people.
When it’s all set and done and I transition away from a career of playing the game I love it will be the people, places, and experiences that will be the most rewarding. Beyond the wins and losses. The highs and lows. And few moments of playing professionally have equaled that of the first trip we made to Jamaica at the start of this year and the opportunity to give back.
Shane Malcolm and I met playing for the Colorado Springs Switchbacks in the USL two years ago. Anyone that knows him or of him would know that he has TALENT. All caps. On and off the field. After a year of getting to know him, I was surprised when he showed me a prototype of this project he was working on. What I ended up seeing was the first mockup of what we now sell at Bootbags. I was immediately interested. It was such a unique spin on something us soccer players have been using for years but in typical Shane fashion, he found a way to make it his own. The rest as they say is history. Within 5 months, we launched Bootbags and what you see today is the product of his vision and some hard work from the two of us along the way.
When we sat down to create the vision of this company we wanted to make sure Bootbags had a heart. To sell a high quality and unique product is the standard we set but we both agreed we wanted to be able to make a difference by creating this product and in sharing it with the world, we wanted to be sure we shared with it our appreciation for what the game of soccer has allowed us to do. Heart. Giving. Empathy. Community. Compassion. These were words that continued to ring true to us and we saw to it that they set the foundation to our brand.
What came of this was our commitment to give away a pair of cleats for every 5 bags that we sell. This commitment lead to Jamaica.
To say that Jamaica was a life-changing event would be a lie. It was if anything the most clarifying and inspiring trip I have taken in my life.
Once again, it was soccer that connected the dots between our mission and how we were actually going to donate our cleats.
Shane grew up playing against and with Daniel Villegas who along with his wife, Stephanie, took a trip to Jamaica with their company Soccer Shots to give back to a community in the capital that was very much overlooked. The parish of Arnnett Gardens (aka The Jungle) is not on any tourist pamphlet yet it was a place that in 2019 was showered with love. The group put on a soccer fun day for the community and left with a promise to return the following year. Shane, who had been in Jamaica to visit family, was invited to help with the event and use one of his many talents by filming the amazing impact that these incredible individuals had on this community.
We launched in July of last year and as sales picked up and the number of cleats we were set to donated increase each day we realized that we had not figured out exactly how or where we were going to donate these cleats and I was scratching my head as to how we were “best” going to do so. And once again soccer answered the call. Shane was due to go back to Jamaica with Soccer Shots at the start of this year and he asked Danni if we could come along to help and to donate the cleats that would account for our 2019 sales. The answer was yes.
I couldn’t think of a better place to donate our cleats. Taking Shane’s design and vision and his heart to donate back and to do so in Jamaica, the place where he was born and had family was everything I would have hoped for.
A couple of months later and I was boarding a red-eye flight to Ft. Lauderdale on New Year’s Eve Shane left his friends to pick me up and we rang in the New Year on an empty freeway as the fireworks lit up the night sky.
We packed our bags the next day and the following morning set off to meet up with the Soccer Shots crew before heading to the airport for Kingston. In their office space, I met for the very first time a group of people I would be spending nearly every waking moment of the next four days with, and right away I felt how special these people are. Soccer connected each and every one of us and it was going to be at the heart of the day spend in “The Jungle”. But what lay between us and that day was a day of flying, driving, and of preparation for a day that every single individual from this group had been waiting all year to do.
24 hours later.
I’m running around. Dribbling. Passing. Connecting. Grinning from ear to ear as I play soccer with some of the first wave of kids that have arrived at the park. The goal was simple and Danni said it best, “We are here to love them”, to make sure that every kid and the community as a whole felt the love that every person is worthy of. We marched off the bus as if we were a team playing in the biggest game of the year: locked in, focused, and excited. Our mission: making this the best day of the year for this community and above all, being fully present. To focus on the kids, the community, and the day. The next hours passed both in slow motion and in an instant. Have you ever had that feeling? As if for a fleeting moment you have somehow managed to wrestle time to the ground.
The day was never about us. It was never about Bootbags. It was about giving back. It was about being intentional and authentic in the way that we gave back. The moment we were able to start giving away the cleats from our sales, as well as those of some amazing individuals that were inspired to give, was one that started like a wave and ended like a tsunami of people, emotions, energy, and hope for a new pair of cleats. As soon as our duffle bags of cleats opened it was as if we had the attention of everyone in the park and the process of giving away our cleats started and ended in a flash. We gave back and my small hope is that those involved in the giving and those who received were able to connect and share a moment. My moment was finding some sense of stillness in the chaos in helping an adorable young girl try on her new pair of soccer cleats and it’s a memory that I will cherish.
In theory, we achieved our mission at Bootbags on this day. We gave back. We took our love of the game and the love you all showed us in our first year and gave away cleats to kids who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to. And we would not have been able to do that without you. Without our customers, our families, friends, teammates, Soccer Shots Crossbar, the USL Community, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks, to the Colorado Springs Spiders, to the Colorado Springs community that we lived, worked and played in this past season. To everyone else. To all the communities that helped us make this possible. As in soccer, we cannot accomplish anything by ourselves. It is truly a team game, as I believe it is in life. And for that, we can’t thank you enough for being a part of the Bootbags team.
As in life, there is always more we can do to give back.
We learned a lot last year. We learned about ourselves. About how to run a company and in both of those endeavors we will continue to learn. We found passion in a product and purpose in our mission of giving back. Now, we look forward to making strides each day to become more intentional and impactful as people and as a company. To let our passion and purpose to give back guide the way to doing so. But the image that burns bright in my memory follows a brief moment of contentment after seeing all of the cleats on feet and watching as those volunteering were able to share a moment of finding a kid to give a pair of cleats to and making my way to the field to watch as these young kids played with all the passion, fight, and love for the game that reminds me why I started playing in the first place. As I watched I noticed the kids with their new cleats and those who played in bare feet. Those in socks. It became even clearer that giving back is not a one-time event. That giving back is constant. It can be done in grand ways and in the smallest ways that you could imagine but both are giving and any giving could mean the world to someone or make their day slightly brighter.
There is no time that giving than during hardship. We are faced with a unique situation that no one imagined would have happened. There are millions of worldwide who are living in stress and fear. Yet, what catches my eye through the constant stream of media what I see are individuals, communities, and companies giving back. Dedicated to helping those people who need help and it once again establishes the purpose of this company. To give back.
We hope that wherever you are, and that whoever you are with that you are safe and healthy and we look forward to continuing our mission of giving back cleats alongside the global fight to give back that has been done for centuries and that which will be done long into the future. We give and receive and we give some more. Thank you for helping make our mission possible and we look forward to continuing our mission today, tomorrow, and into whatever future lay ahead of us all.
“don’t be afraid of work that has no end”- Avot De Rabbi Natan
- Jordan Schweitzer- May 12, 2020