November 19, 2012

Junior Student-Athletes Elshaday Belay and Leah Levey Working to Help Youth Soccer in Kenya

CLEVELAND – The soccer season has come to an end at Case Western Reserve University, but junior student-athletes Elshaday Belay (Houston, Texas/Bellaire) and Leah Levey (Columbus, Ohio/Bexley) continue to work on a cause that reaches far beyond their home field.

Belay, a University Athletic Association All-Academic midfielder for the Spartan men, and Levey, a three-time All-UAA forward for the Spartan women, have recently founded a group known as LCFL Case, which serves as a local chapter for the international non-profit organization, Likoni Community Football League.

Ironically, the Likoni Community Football League has a connection to Case soccer through its Founder and Director, Ben Levey, the older brother of Leah.

For Belay, hearing Ben Levey's presentation provided all the motivation he needed to become involved.

"For me, I've never really taken on any other activities at Case other than academics and soccer," said Belay. "Seeing something I love (soccer) expressed in another form, I knew it was a way for me to give back. There are plenty of noble ways to give back out there, but when you can do that through an activity that you are connected to, it really provides the opportunity to attach and devote yourself."

Leah Levey shared similar sentiments.

"All of the stories and videos my brother showed us inspired me to create this club," said Levey. "I've learned that these kids in Likoni, Mombassa share the same love for soccer as we do, and they truly enjoy playing the game with their teammates."

Ben Levey founded LCFL right out of college after taking a trip to Kenya. There, he was exposed to a youth scene that saw hundreds of children playing the game of soccer without an organized league. He saw the love for the game that the children displayed, but he also felt the games should be safe and regulated. Levey then organized eight coaches from around Likoni to set up teams, schedules and referees. Since that point in time, the leagues have evolved into a sixth season with nearly 600 youth participating. Another international organization, Coaches across Continents, has also joined the cause to provide education in areas like HIV/AIDS and female empowerment in addition to soccer.

Since Belay and Leah Levey began their involvement, LCFL Case has partnered with the UAA to create its own network. With that, four Universities have made donations that have added up to more than 300 jerseys and shirts, socks, shorts, soccer balls, etc.

"We hope to continue this relationship with the UAA, and if every year the schools have equipment that is no longer being used, we want to obtain it to ship to Kenya each and every semester," said Belay. "We also hope to expand this program to teams throughout the country and with other clubs at Case. It's our goal to create funding for our own shipment so as to not put any extra cost on Ben (Levey)."

Belay has also begun to work with Head Coach Dan Palmer to contact various vendors throughout the country seeking additional used equipment that can be donated. All of the current donated equipment is being stored at both Belay's and Leah Levey's houses on the Case campus.

"This weekend, we are shipping some of the equipment we've collected through UAA schools," said Leah Levey. "We're sending full sets of jerseys from Emory and Carnegie Mellon as well as soccer balls and cones donated by Brandeis. We've seen photos of the children wearing gear we've donated from Case, and it's truly an amazing feeling to help be a part of that."

With plenty still in store for LCFL Case, Belay wants the message of the group to be clear.

"People are always asking for donations, and there are plenty of good causes. But, if there is an opportunity to become involved with something that affected your childhood or you are currently apart of (like soccer for us), it's really the best way to give back. We've seen the highs and the lows in soccer, and we want to give the best possible experience to someone less fortunate."