HealthChangers Podcast: Sounders FC partnership with Regence is part of club’s commitment to deep social impact

By Regence
May 01, 2024
Ashley Fosberg headshot

Main image: Ashley Fosberg, vice president of philanthropy for Sounders FC

Since the club’s first season in Major League Soccer in 2009, Seattle Sounders FC has won not just two MLS Cups but has forged an extraordinary connection to its fans.

The Sounders are celebrating an even deeper history in Seattle this year. In 1974, the first Sounders franchise began playing in the North American Soccer League, and the club is now commemorating 50 years of Sounders soccer in Seattle. Last year, Regence was proud to enter into a multi-year partnership with Sounders FC to improve the health of youth in underserved communities and to increase access to health and wellness and physical health curriculum.

With the new Sounders season in its opening months, this is an ideal time to not just talk about the Regence-Sounders partnership, but also look at how the club has connected so profoundly to the community. In this episode of the HealthChangers podcast, host Ashley Bach spoke with Ashley Fosberg, the vice president of philanthropy for Sounders FC and the executive director of RAVE Foundation. Ashley Fosberg has been with the club since 2016 and played an integral role in the club's mission-driven investments in the Puget Sound region.

Listen to the full podcast episode on the player above. Below are some highlights, which have been edited for length and clarity.

AB: We wanted to start off by giving listeners some background about the Sounders philanthropic efforts and RAVE Foundation. What is RAVE’s mission?

AF: RAVE’s mission is to build small fields for free play in communities where access to play is scarce, and to use soccer as a vehicle to inspire youth and strengthen those communities. So you might see a RAVE field planned next to a complex with three full-size turf fields. On those full-sized turf fields, you would never see the kids and families who live around them because they can't access the sport of soccer due to financial barriers. They're not able to pay to join the rec team that rents those fields, for example.

What RAVE does is come in to that community and gift to that community its very own small field for free play that's open anytime they want, and it's never rentable. What that does is it sets the community up for success by offering them a place to play and be healthy and be proud of in their community. Our mini soccer pitches are not just about the play space. They're also about how those play spaces can anchor communities, and be used as points of pride for communities and then can be used for us and our friends out there to program for the community, for free, programs that help the community with things like wellness, physical activity, education – using soccer and other sports as a way to help children learn. And then also that sense of joy, which leads to great health outcomes.

AB: Sounders FC decided to focus its philanthropic efforts on four areas of social impact (Fight Racism, Defend the Right to Play, Stand for LGBTQ+ Equality and Protect Our Planet). Why did you decide to focus on those areas?

AF: We were at a point, maybe 10 years ago, where we were trying to be everything to everybody. And that's part of sports philanthropy, too, is you have a platform, people want to align with you to use your platform for good. And we were in the mode of saying “yes” to a lot of different things. But we learned that we weren't being very deeply invested in any one thing. That's what made our decision easier was to really look, with the crisis in summer of 2020 (around the George Floyd protests and movement for racial justice), at that as an opportunity to grow and be strategic and lean into very specific arenas for change that we could go deep on. And that's our long-term commitment. 

I'll say that sports teams, especially in Seattle, are wonderful at this. What makes Sounders FC and RAVE Foundation unique is that we are long-term partners in this work with the communities that we serve. So we are not just looking to show up at Northwest African American Museum on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We are not just looking to celebrate and elevate Latinx voices during Hispanic Heritage Month. We are year-round, long-term, deep partners in this work.

AB: Last year Regence and the Sounders announced a multi-year partnership to improve the health of local youth. Can you tell me more?

AF: I love this partnership. It started talking about community; it started talking about values; it started talking about the benefits of health. We started with ideas, like how can we serve underserved youth together with our aligned values? It was how do we make sure students and children have the tools they need to be healthy? (Early in the partnership) Regence came alongside us and helped us build a new place to play for an underserved community in Renton.

The thing I'm even more proud of is our Build Your Shield clinics that we developed together. These are special clinics for youth that use soccer to help kids build their health and empower them to build their whole health. We look at four different areas. One of the areas is in your mental health. How do you build your mind? How do you build that support for yourself? How do you take time outs? How do you self-regulate? Another one is how do you build your physical health? What does it look like nutrition-wise? What does that look like activity wise? How are you making sure you have a strong, healthy body? Another is how do you build your resilience? How do you fight adversity? How are you set up to be a member of a team but also face life's challenges? And the fourth is how do you build your team? What is your support system around you?

Our first Build Your Shield clinic this year is May 4 at Cedar River Park in Renton; up to 100 youth will be able to experience this curriculum. Regence will be joining us to volunteer and help execute this wonderful clinic that we built together. Another clinic will be hosted this summer at our training facility in Renton. And then the third will be right across Lake Washington from Renton in Rainier Beach.

AB: There is a connection between physical health and mental health, and getting children out to parks and playgrounds really does lead to better overall health. There are some deeper benefits at play than just kicking a soccer ball around.

AF: Absolutely. I think we'll be talking about the effects of the pandemic for a long time. One of the effects that we saw, and we still see and why this work is so important, is that there was a surge in anxiety and depression among children of all ages—especially adolescents, but definitely in younger children as well. And the more we can invite play as a way to release some of that anxiety and depression, the better our communities, our society and our kids will be. Our programs are really meant to foster that. And adding places to play for kids is key. It's very necessary work right now, to help kids release some of the stresses that they're feeling.

AB: The Sounders are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. You’ve been very successful in those years connecting with your fan base. What do you attribute that to?

AF: The Sounders used to take their van loaded up with players and go out to schools, go out to parks, and just show up. And that has been a thread that has never frayed and it's always been an important part of how Sounders FC does business. The other thing that's unique about the Sounders is the sport, with soccer being such a connector and such a wonderful way for cultures of any kind, no matter what language you speak, can come together and speak the language of soccer together. What we're finding is it's a convening agent. It's a way for people automatically to be friends or feel familiar.

When you're kicking a soccer ball around—we see it on some of our many soccer pitches that we put in—you see the field with a couple balls and all of a sudden, kids from all over the world are playing with each other, kicking the ball from side to side with kids they don't know. So we have that unique asset. We honor and respect that and want to utilize that to the community's benefit.