PORTLAND, Ore. – The depth of Hayley Raso’s resume matched that of most previous Stand Together Community MVPs. She volunteered with Habitat for Humanity during the community outreach arm’s annual Stand Together Week. She spent time with those involved with Girls on the Run, a non-profit organization in the Portland metro area, and got involved with the Pixie Project in aiding the adoption process for local kittens. In quantity, the resume Raso’s collected over 2019 is an exemplar of what the Community MVP award is about.
Yet what really jumped out about Raso’s year with Stand Together is the same thing that distinguishes the three other 2019 Community MVPs: connection. Each year, the initiative singles out athletes that have had the greatest impact on their community. This year, Raso’s standout connection was made at a Shriners Hospital visit, where she met a patient who has quickly become one of her most memorable fans.
Rohen and Raso bonded quickly during her visit to Shriners, so much so that by the time Rohen followed up on their interaction and came out to a Thorns game, he had memorized all her statistics and made sure to highlight their interactions by tacking an Australian “mate” to the end of their talk. His family was there, too, to see the extent to which Rohen’s new heroine had remembered their time at the hospital. WIth the recognition she showed in the moments after her game, Raso showed she had made a connection, too.
Midge Purce’s story follows a similar arc, one defined by both breadth and value. Like Raso, she made connections at the Shriners Hospital, and like her teammate, Purce also played a significant role during Stand Together Week, choosing to give her time to a project, Chelsea’s Closet, which provides clothing for children battling illness. Work with Rose City Readers, a literacy initiative, and Girls, Inc., also highlight a year which would have had even more activity, had the other ideas of Purce’s own creation had time to become reality.
But like the club’s other MVPs, the standout memory from Purce’s 2019 in the community was about connection; specifically, one she made at a Girl Strong event early in the NWSL season. There to support an organization focused on mindfulness, health and empowerment, Purce found herself quickly latched onto my one girl who made it her day’s mission to stay with the Thorns star throughout the event. With all her projects, Purce’s attentiveness stands out more than most, but on that spring day, that attentiveness allowed her to transcend being a celebrity drop-in. For a girl that needed to share her story with somebody important, Purce became a friend, bringing the type of mindfulness that Girl Strong is all about.
It may be no surprise to hear similar things have happened to Timbers midfielder Sebastián Blanco. One of the most charming and charismatic players at the club, Blanco’s also earned a reputation as being one of the most engaging during his community work – work that extended into another country, this season, with Blanco taking part in community outreach during the Timbers’ preseason spell in Costa Rica. Back in Portland, Seba also helped with the team’s Bilingual Reporter Program, worked with Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese to make pasta and meals during his time at a local Ronald McDonald house, and has contributed to the team’s Train Like a Timber project.
Blanco’s most memorable moment of 2019, though, exemplifies the connection he makes with all of his projects. Going the extra mile as a guest speaker at Mountainside High School, Blanco arrived with pastries and maté for his class’s students and staff. It sounds like a small thing, but to have a guest speaker show up with something beyond himself – something that showed his consideration for the event started long before his arrival – made Blanco’s event even more memorable. As with both Raso and Purce, his time in the community was as much the connection as the projects themselves.
Perhaps no Timbers or Thorns player embodies those connections as much as Zarek Valentin. Valentin was a Community MVP in 2018, too, but given how the Timbers defender built on the previous year, his case as a repeat honoree was undeniable including contributions in Costa Rica, to Rose City Readers, and at local hospitals. In those ways, Valentin’s 2019 mirrors his fellow winners, as just his time with Dia de los Niños at Echo Park, on the Rose City Rose Trip, and with local Boys & Girls Clubs makes his resume its own.
Still, it’s the connections Valentin has made – particularly with the club’s fanbase; specifically with one local cause – that stand out. Building on the success of 2018’s RibbonZ campaign which raised money for local LGBTQ groups, Valentin worked with members of the 107 Independent Supporters’ Trust’s Patch Patrol team to make a series of collector’s items to sell at games, the proceeds from which went to those causes. Personally selling the patches at Thorns games, Valentin not only helped raise over $25,000 for local groups. He established himself as a consistent, growing force for positivity within his community.
It’s the type of work done by other Timbers and Thorns, too, throughout each year, but in 2019, his was one of the contributions that stood out most. As did Raso’s. As did Purce’s and Blanco’s. Together, they helped highlight why the connection between player and cause, player and community can be as important as the tangible work. It’s why those four were honored with the 2019 Stand Together Community MVP annual awards.