Portland Timbers fans are doubtless used to seeing Diego Valeri, Major League Soccer's reigning Most Valuable Player, showing off his fancy footwork on the pitch and scoring goals for his team.
On Monday afternoon, June 11, Valeri was showing off a different skillset — hula-hooping with kids from all around Washington County at the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center in Cornelius.
The Timbers midfielder was there along with teammates Julio Cascante and Cristhian Peredes and Portland Thorns players Meg Morris and Elizabeth Ball as part of the clubs' Stand Together Week.
Though players and staff from the Timbers and Thorns are actively involved in community projects year-round, they amplify their community involvement every June during Stand Together Week. Since 2012, players, staff and fans of the Timbers and Thorns have volunteered 15,000 hours during Stand Together Weeks alone, according to the clubs.
Monday's event at Virginia Garcia was a "Summer Celebration," and it included sock tie-dyeing and an obstacle course race with hula-hooping, jumping rope, sack racing, crab-walking, soccer skills and an egg walk. The afternoon finished with a soccer game.
It was also a great opportunity for kids to talk with, take pictures and get autographs from their favorite players.
The event was fun for Jazmin, 8, of Cornelius because she got to "do activities and hang out with other people," she said.
"It's important that the kids know that professional players are normal people too, that they are not so different from themselves," Paredes, who is from Paraguay, said in Spanish.
For Valeri, who frequently reads to elementary school students with the Timbers' Rose City Readers program, connecting with fans in the community is really important.
"It's very important to share time with our community outside of the soccer field," he said. "We give to them and connect with them, first on the field through our play, but this is just as important to connect with our fans in the community."
For Virginia Garcia, having the Timbers and Thorns at their event was a way to unite the community and simultaneously underscore its diversity.
"It's a way to get the community together," said Tania Villanueva, a Virginia Garcia Wellness Center assistant who helped organize the event. "It means our community is integrated and people of different backgrounds get to come together."
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