LeadYoung - Josh Kaplan: A teenager who wants to ensure everyone is a player in Phoenix, Arizona
Teamwork is critical in order to be effective in a world that is changing fast. In order to succeed, every team must ensure that every player is contributing. Josh’s story is a wonderful example on how every young person is empowered to be a player and learns how to create change for the good of all.
Josh Kaplan has been playing soccer since he was eight years old in his hometown in Phoenix, Arizona. After meeting a friend’s brother who loved to play soccer but was excluded from the team because he has Down Syndrome, Josh became determined to find a way to include all children in the game he loved. “I saw much of my own experiences in my teammate's brother” says Josh, now nineteen and a student at Emory University in Georgia. “We'd both been isolated, felt as if we didn't belong, and I thought soccer was the perfect form to create that feeling of inclusion, and tolerance.” Especially close to his heart because Josh’s initial foray into soccer was the result of his parents signing him up “hoping that being part of a team would help [Josh] make friends despite a stutter that made [him] painfully shy.”
After that first sign-up, Josh fell in love with the game, and says soccer showed him he “could be a leader, not just through words but through action as well.” GOALS was born from his desire to share that same growth opportunity with other young people. It offers a modified, non-competitive soccer experience to students with and without physical and intellectual disabilities. In bi-weekly scrimmages, athletes play in unified pairs, breaking down barriers which separate students with intellectual disabilities from their neurotypical peers.
This approach creates a deeper sense of empathy through shared experience and allows the participants to overcome the hurdles of social stigma surrounding disability, fostering a community of inclusion. Josh believes his organization stands out because “it is not [just] a community service program for kids with intellectual disabilities. Instead, GOALS is a program that serves the entire community, understanding that our community includes people of all abilities.”
Since its inception, GOALS has impacted over 700 young people as players, teammates, volunteers, and co-leaders with Josh. But Josh sees his social venture, begun at age sixteen, as just the beginning of a broader movement – that of global youth changemaking. “Young people have so much power to change the world,” he says. “All they have to do is find what they're passionate about. There are so many ways to take your interests and passions, and apply them to social problems in order to make your community better.”
Caroline DelAngelo and Lucy Eills contributed to this story.
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