Celtics great Paul Pierce’s jersey retirement on Feb. 11 was a special night for Boston fans. Although former UConn men’s basketball player Ray Allen wasn’t there, another former Husky was waiting to be honored.
Stephen Schirra, an Ellington native and 2014 UConn grad, appeared during the second timeout of the second quarter to be recognized by the Celtics’ community program “Heroes Among Us.”
The honor is presented to an individual who has impacted the lives of others in the community.
“Please don’t cry, please don’t cry,” Schirra said to himself while the Celtics showed pictures of his non-profit.
While he watched everyone stand up and clap for him, memories of the past two and a half years flooded back.
Around the World’s, Around the World is the non-profit Schirra started to help kids in different countries.
Schirra’s initial mission was to deliver 1,000 soccer balls to underprivileged kids. Two years later, he surpassed that goal and began delivering soccer cleats, goalkeeper gloves, t-shirts and more to kids in the poorest communities across the globe.
It’s not the first award Schirra has received. In the summer of 2016, Schirra won the Major League Soccer MVP award and was awarded $10,000 to grow his charity.
What started in the Philippines has reached 23 countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia and created bonds that will last for a lifetime.
“When I was standing there, all I could think of was the kids that I’ve worked with, wishing they could be there with me,” Schirra said.
Schirra has worked with 3,700 underprivileged kids, some of whom still keep in touch with him through social media and the directors of different orphanages.
His goals have brought him to unthinkable places to spread his love for soccer. But he has also had to deal with the dangers and hardships the kids he works with face on a daily basis.
“We’re kind of ready, we’re taking it to strike. You go into it knowing something could happen but you don’t let it dictate your actions,” Schirra said.
When he was in Colombia, he was in a gang-controlled neighborhood and heard stories of stab victims.
When he was in the Philippines, one of the orphanages he had worked with burned to the ground.
When he went to El Salvador, he didn’t know it was the world’s most dangerous country and that its capital, San Salvador, was the murder capital of the world.
“Ignorance is bliss. I didn’t research anything before going. Maybe if I had known all of those things I wouldn’t have gone,” Schirra said.
But when he’s there, he’s not afraid, and that means the world for the people he works with.
“It means a lot to them. You can see how everyone fears going to the country and fears the people because of the reputation, and it’s not fair to them,” Schirra said. “It means a lot to them when you show you trust them.
Traveling has brought challenges for Schirra such as sleeping on floors, not eating, rejection from orphanages, language barriers and more.
Schirra doesn’t speak Spanish but was forced to try and learn.
He tries to learn new phrases so he can talk to kids about their dreams and their struggles. Even if he messes up and they make fun of him, it’s all about trying.
Soccer has allowed him to travel the world and impact the lives of young people.
The Celtics’ recognition has opened new paths for his nonprofit and he hopes his mission continues to spread.
“I got a message today from someone in London who wants to help,” Schirra said.
As he looks to the future of his organization, Schirra talked about his goals on Twitter.
“3,700 from 23 countries now! Fell a little bit off pace, but setting our sights on a new goal of impacting 50,000 children through our soccer ball donations. Currently at a little over 36,200... just a little something to work towards,” Schirra wrote.
In order to meet the goal, Schirra is moving quickly. He hopes to get back on a plane as soon as he can with plans to visit Haiti and Panama in the coming weeks.
Daniela Marulanda is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.