Building Bridges through Soccer: Yazidi Youth Flourish with Nebraska Extension

January 16, 2024


Nebraska Extension is expanding its Soccer for Success efforts by supporting four local coaches serving Yazidi youth in Lincoln. Nebraska’s capital city is home to the United States’ largest Yazidi émigré community.  

With funding support from the National 4-H Council Healthy Habits (HH) grant sponsored by the Walmart Foundation, the Soccer for Success (SfS) program in Lincoln this year expanded to support training and funding stipends, as well as programming supplies, for four local coaches to host their own Soccer for Success club. 

Soccer for Success is a national program sponsored by the U.S. Soccer Foundation that incorporates nutrition, physical activity and social emotional learning skills to improve youth health and well-being. Nebraska Extension Nutrition Education Program staff have led six Soccer for Success clubs at various youth-serving organizations in Lincoln for elementary through high school youth since 2020. 

Meredith Kuca, a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed) staff member,, coordinated the local SfS training. She is also a certified National Soccer for Success coach-mentor trainer.  

To become registered SfS coach-mentors, the four coaches received training on youth development, nutrition, social emotional learning, and soccer skills. Three of the coaches had earlier started as HH teen ambassadors who co-coached two SfS clubs alongside Extension staff member Irvin Ramirez-Benavides before launching their own club: the Yazidi SfS Club of Lincoln. 

“The three HH Teen Ambassadors/SfS coach-mentors were wonderful to work with!” said Kuca. “They had such enthusiasm and drive to serve their community and fill a need for accessible youth programming. This SfS youth program would not have happened without their initiative because we wouldn’t have known the need existed or known how to communicate effectively with this community, as there is a language and cultural barrier.” 

Through the leadership and connections of the local coaches, a group of 38 Yazidi youth completed an 8-week Soccer for Success Program, meeting 16 times with practices and scrimmages twice per week. 

The four Yazidi coach-mentors were the cultural liaisons to identify and recruit Yazidi youth participants for the SfS program and delivered SfS with cultural awareness that stretched beyond what Extension staff could have provided. Pre- and post-survey results indicate successful behavior change for the youth participants in the areas of diet quality, food safety, physical activity and food resource management. Almost 90% of the youth improved their choice of nutrient-dense foods, and nearly three quarters of the youth improved their physical activity practices or gained knowledge of them.  

Ivan Haskan, one of the Yazidi coach-mentors said this about the program: “Being part of the Soccer for Success program has been one of the most fun things I have done this year! What I loved most about the program was that the kids enjoyed it so much that they could not wait until the next practice day. The program became a place where the kids could hang out with peers their age and just enjoy their time. That was important because many of these kids have parents that work during the day, so they don’t have access to any other soccer practices or resources. Overall, working with Irvin Ramirez, Meredith Kuca, and everyone else involved with this program, has been an unforgettable experience.This program has been one that is most deserving of any grants and funds.”

A youth participant of the SfS club said, “Thanks to this program I am able to play soccer with my friends. We didn’t have another place like this to play together.” 

Youth fitness is declining in recent years, and youth obesity rates continue to trend upwards. Soccer for Success and other programs like it are integral to the vitality of communities and building stronger future generations. Nebraska Extension is currently seeking sponsors and funding opportunities to continue and expand the SfS efforts, including indoor facilities to continue the program year round. Please contact Jean Ann Fischer at with any comments or connections.