Timbers host special 'Bienvenidos Event' to help further reach in Hispanic community
In front of 40 Latino league and team representatives from all over the state of Oregon, the Portland Timbers continued to demonstrate their impressive community outreach campaign by playing host to the second-annual Bienvenidos event during the recent preseason tournament.
Featuring a special Q&A from Timbers General Manager Gavin Wilkinson and Timbers Academy Director Mike Smith, the event was an opportunity for Latino coaches and league representatives to catch up with the Timbers in order to get a feel for what the team has accomplished in building its academy structure and how each league, team, coach and player will be able to benefit from it as a result.
Wilkinson started off the event by discussing some of the Timbers’ recent player acquisitions ahead of the 2012 MLS season and providing an overview regarding the direction of the club. He assured the attendees that the Timbers are currently planting the seeds for a successful youth academy and the development of home grown talent.
“We’re constantly looking around the state for young talent,” said Wilkinson. “We want to open up these doors and see more Hispanics in the community succeed. I think it speaks volumes about what you’re doing in the community and it speaks volumes about what we’re doing in the community.”
One of the goals for the Bienvenidos event is to help educate and inform local Hispanic players and parents on player development opportunities and how to go about getting on a professional track – such as the Timbers Academy system. To help reach out into the Hispanic community, the Timbers have established a targeted information network through the club’s platform, “Somos Timbers.”
“I think Somos Timbers has done a magnificent job this past year,” said Smith. “I was privileged to speak to this crowd last year and it’s grown. I think the community outreach has done a great job to promote the involvement.
“We know that some of the best players are not playing ODP or organized soccer,” explained Smith. “So we need to do our research and due diligence to get out and see some of these kids play. We already have some incredible young players with Latino backgrounds playing in the ODP program. They played very, very well against the LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes’ U-13 and U-14 teams.”
Wilkinson has always felt that accessibility and transparency are very much a part of what the Timbers represent. He definitely made that clear at the Bienvenidos event, by taking time out of a busy game day just before the Timbers’ final preseason match to explain just how much the Timbers are dedicated to the community.
“In the past it has been all about affordability, [about] having access, having the same opportunity at the same cost,” said Wilkinson. “We want to make sure that everyone has the same opportunity. That’s in part why Somos Timbers was created, to spread the knowledge and the information within the game and have access to the Timbers.”
The registered participants, some of whom traveled to JELD-WEN Field from as far away as Medford, Hermiston, Ontario, Hood River and Salem, were well received by the Timbers, who provided a tamale lunch made by the Micromercantes of Hacienda CDC. Additionally, each registered participant at the Bienvenidos event was allowed to stick around for the pre-season tournament double-header finale, thanks to tickets provided by the Oregon Adult Soccer Association.
Hermiston High School varsity soccer coach, and first-time participant, Rich Harshberger, felt that the accessibility that the Timbers provided him and other coaches surpassed their expectations.
“We drove all the way from Hermiston for this,” said Harshberger. “At first, I didn’t know what to expect out of the meet and greet, but after listening to their presentation and being able to bounce questions off of them, it was more than I could hope for.”
“It was really helpful, honestly, it was more than I was hoping for,” said Joaquin Garcia, International FC Soccer Club head coach. “I never would have thought that Gavin (Wilkinson) was going to be here and talk to us.”
Overall, it was a great experience for both parties involved, and a huge testament to the dedication that the Timbers have for not only the Hispanic community, but all Oregonians alike.