Poverty is one of the world’s greatest crises.
Half of the nearly seven billion people roaming the Earth live on less than $2.50 a day, according to studies. And the Census Bureau reported last month that almost 50 million Americans, more than 16 percent of the population, are considered impoverished.
A Greenfield-Central graduate and three of his friends are using the world’s game to take a stand against one of the planet’s most significant problems.
Monroe, Ohio, natives Jake Essig, Derek Garde and Nick Streibick have joined forces with 2009 G-C graduate Isaac Beal to create Dribble 4 Toledo, a fundraiser aspiring to curtail poverty in Toledo, Ohio.
Dribble 4 Toledo’s goal is to raise $10,000 dollars for Lifeline Toledo —a not-for-profit organization that aides the city’s disadvantaged residents — by means of embarking on a 200-mile excursion from Monroe to Toledo, dribbling soccer balls the entire length of the journey.
Beal and Essig, teammates on the Huntington (Ind.) University men’s soccer team the past three seasons, visited Toledo on the Foresters’ preseason team trip. Toledo is 131 miles northeast of Huntington, which is located outside of Fort Wayne.
The concentration of people living in Toledo’s poorest neighborhoods — more than 46,000 people reside in locales with poverty rates 40 percent or higher in the metro area — grew more than 15 percent in the past decade, which was the most significant rise among the country’s biggest metro areas, according to a Brookings Institution study.
While in Toledo, Beal and Essig came in contact with Lifeline Toledo founder Steve North.
Lifeline Toledo attempts to reintegrate the unemployed, the poor — anyone who feels disconnected — into society and create a sense of belonging.
“We want to restore the dignity of humanity and relationships,” said North, who, along with his wife and three children, were temporarily homeless after moving to Toledo in 2006.
The Norths eventually moved into their own home, but they faced another setback recently when the house was severely damaged in a fire. The Huntington men’s soccer team volunteered three days of their help in the gutting and interior demolition of North’s home.
But, North, who doubles as Lifeline Toledo’s pastor, submitted a counter-proposal to the Foresters.
“I said, ‘Why don’t you work for two days, and then let me introduce you to urban poverty,’” he recalled.
Beal, a senior, Essig, a junior, and their teammates were on the receiving end of North’s “poverty immersion experience,” which struck a chord with Beal.
“It’s so much more real when you see it with your own eyes instead of seeing it on the news,” he said.
After visiting a homeless shelter and listening to the stories of Toledo’s underprivileged, Beal and Essig returned to Huntington bent on making a difference back in northern Ohio.
With no plans for spring break, the four young men tossed around plans that would stretch them deep and strengthen their friendship. They kicked around a lot of ideas, such as backpacking through Europe.
But after Beal and Essig’s stay in Toledo, the foursome decided to make an impact on a community through their common bond: soccer.
Beal played four years of soccer, basketball and track at Greenfield-Central, and enrolled at Huntington because of its Christian background and the instant chemistry he felt with the members of the men’s soccer team during a recruiting visit. Beal would go on to earn playing time during all four years, and was a team captain the past two seasons at center back.
This fall, Essig, a midfielder, started all 19 games for the Foresters, leading the team in goals (four) and points (10).
Streibick previously played collegiately at Asbury (Ky.). Garde is a lifelong soccer player who is attending the University of Cincinnati.
“Soccer is our connection to each other. It’s been our avenue in life,” said Essig, a sports management major who hopes to be a soccer coach or athletic director at the collegiate level. “That’s how we feel we can put a unique spin on this whole thing.”
Beal and North remained in contact and eventually Beal returned to Toledo with Essig, Garde and Streibick and their Dribble 4 Toledo pitch.
“I love the idea. It had initiative, creativity and the opportunity to bring awareness,” North said. “They have the tools, motivation, energy and charisma to be involved.”
The four plan to commence their trek north on May 20, with only essentials in their backpacks and a tent to sleep in. Along their to-be-determined route, the four aim to connect with churches, YMCAs and other non-profits to spread word of their mission, and perhaps have an occasional solid roof over their heads.
Otherwise, Beal, Essig, Garde and Streibick will be left to themselves, the elements and their soccer balls, with a target arrival date in Toledo set for June 15.
“It’s not every day you see four 20-year-olds dribbling a ball on the side of the road,” Essig noted. “We’re praying good people will be out there.
“We think sports is the perfect platform for serving, for reaching out to other people, whether you’re into faith or not. Soccer is a universal game, it connects all walks of mankind.”
Though the idea of having a car follow them has been discussed, the sentiment among the group is although that scenario would provide them with a close safety net, it would take away from unique vibe and experience they hope their trip will provide to them and for others.
Dribble 4 Toledo is active on social media, as its Facebook page has registered over 500 likes and its Twitter feed — which has garnered support from former Purdue basketball player Chris Kramer — has nearly 200 followers. The group hopes to attain corporate sponsorship, so that any money donated goes directly to Lifeline and not potential trip costs.
“We’ll take any donations. We still have five, six months before we leave,” offered Beal, a mathematics major who would like to be a soccer coach. “We’re hoping that the word spreads and that people will be generous.”
T-shirts, bumper stickers and a benefit concert in the spring at Huntington are a few of the initiatives Dribble 4 Toledo has started with the purpose of fostering an atmosphere of participation not limited to monetary contributions.
“We want people to get involved in any way they can. If you have extra clothing, food…if people want to serve with us, want to dribble with us, those are all options,” Essig explained. “We’re just the hands and feet that are living it out.”
Jared Manning, the veteran Greenfield-Central boys soccer coach, recently found out about Dribble 4 Toledo on social media and was impressed with the passion and desire shown by his former player.
“Describing Isaac as a caring individual is an understatement. He is a selfless individual, putting others before himself and seeing him organize an event such as this is no real surprise,” Manning said. “He is a first-class individual and I can’t wait to see how this project benefits the people of Toledo and all those involved.”
North is optimistic about the potential impact Dribble 4 Toledo can bring to its namesake city.
“It’s going to be more effective than they dared to think,” he said.
For more information on Dribble 4 Toledo or to donate, visit: