Every year around mid-summer a sign-up list is hung up in the Thorns FC locker room.
Taped to a whiteboard in the bowels of Providence Park, the list contains several blanks and descriptions of several service activities for players to participate in in the Portland metro area. Because of the limited spots at each activity, the sign-up process occasionally becomes a competitive affair between players looking to participate in certain types of activities or secure a spot serving with a favorite organization or two from past years.
Emily Menges and Madison Pogarch, whose lockers are positioned relatively close to the list, witness this “chaos” firsthand and can’t help but chuckle. Their teammates racing toward the list as soon as it’s put up, playful jabs all around: the effect of Stand Together Week.
In reality, there are only winners. For a week each year, players, coaches, staff and the Portland community come together to serve and provide support to multiple organizations. Ahead of the organization’s 12th-annual Stand Together Week, Menges and Pogarch discussed what the week means to them, why it’s such an important facet of the organization and more.
- VOLUNTEER: Stand Together Week Projects
“I think we all look forward to [Stand Together Week],” Pogarch said. “Everyone finds value in giving back to the community and being able to pick and choose where you want to do that. Having the list in the locker room doesn’t feel like an obligation; there is always a lot of excitement around the activities and events that are going on.”
Pogarch: "Every year I get more excited"
Stand Together Week has been around for as long as Menges can remember.
Shortly after her arrival to the Rose City in 2014, Menges heard about the annual event from teammates. She fondly remembers of one of her first service projects, which came with Friends of Trees. That day she spent over two hours shoveling mulch out of the back of a truck and cleaning areas around newly planted trees, a definite changeup from the normal daily training regimen.
“It was really tiring, I smelled really bad and was itchy, but you embrace what’s going on,” Menges said. “It’s you, one of your teammates and then a bunch of people who come out and do these activities every other [day].”
There is no shortage of ways or opportunities for players to serve the local community; the hardest decision for some is determining whether to serve indoors or outdoors as well as working directly with young children – such as reading books or making artwork with them – or taking part in more labor-intensive work.
In addition to shoveling mulch, Menges has had the opportunity to put summer science packets together for kids who don’t have access to school activities over summer while Pogarch has helped with cleanup activities and prepackaged days’ worth of groceries.
“Stand Together Week really piqued my interest the first year and it has gotten better since,” Pogarch said. “Every year I get more excited and try to fit as many fun projects as I can; I always take on another one if I’m able to.”
Shoulder to shoulder with supporters – whether in the back of a truck full of mulch or in a garden littered with weeds – Stand Together Week chips away at the artificial bubble between club and community.
“During these events you’re thrown in the same pile of mulch together [with the fans] and that’s really cool,” Menges said. “You get past the first few conversations of ‘Oh, you’re a soccer player, and ‘Oh, you’re a fan’ and then you end up having real conversations.”
Those real conversations play a pivotal role in what makes the week so memorable for players and those who fill Providence Park each weekend alike. It eliminates the “starstruck” nature of interactions between pro athlete and those who have once dreamed of being in their position. That part of the week, perhaps, is what excited Pogarch most during her first Stand Together Week.
“One of my favorite things is the opportunity to get face-to-face time with our supporters and people in the community,” Pogarch said. “To not be in a setting where we’re players and they’re fans, we’re all volunteers and there’s a person-to-person aspect to that I enjoy.”
Menges: "It sparks a little bit of passion"
While both Menges and Pogarch describe serving for just a few hours memorable enough, both have seen the week make a longer-lasting impact. Every so often a player will serve an organization during Stand Together week and then continue to reconnect with that group or organization separately throughout the year.
“It sparks a little bit of passion,” Menges said. “I know our team has gone in the direction of serving our community more even than a few seasons ago; it has been cool to see and I hope we continue to make it part of our team culture.”
Over her eight seasons with the organization, Menges has seen the list of organizations and variety of activities continue to grow, even in the years following the limitations presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like many of her teammates, the week of service has encouraged Pogarch to seek out additional opportunities for herself with different organizations outside of Stand Together Week. She often notes events and organizations she likes serving with each season and tries her best to follow up with them while she can.
When asked about how they would like to see the week grow, Pogarch and Menges both mentioned making Stand Together Week more than an annual one-off. The fact that there are so many organizations and so little time sometimes leaves players wanting more.
“There’s so many things happening in the city and so many things happening in the community that could use multiple hands,” Pogarch said. “We’re [in Portland] from pretty much February until October, it doesn’t just have to be one week in July.”
On Monday, another Stand Together Week began, giving players on both the Timbers and Thorns FC the opportunity to serve organizations still slowly recovering from the pandemic. When the list went up in the Thorns locker room several weeks ago, as is often the case, most players were eager to sign up for more than one slot, excited for what the week will bring.
“It’s cool to be in an environment of people who set aside a lot of their time working with these organizations,” Menges said. “Every year it’s eye-opening for me to see how many people in the community volunteer on a consistent basis. It’s pretty awesome.”