Academy player organizes book drive to benefit local community

CHARLOTTE—As a member of Charlotte FC’s Academy, Simon Tonidandel has a busy schedule. However, in addition to balancing an intensive training routine with his studies, the 13-year-old has taken steps to affect positive change in his community.

In less than three weeks, Tonidandel led his U14 teammates to collect 377 books for the Soccer Foundation of Charlotte (Soccer F.C.), a non-profit partner of Charlotte FC that uses soccer as a platform to promote literacy at local Title 1 elementary schools.

“I think reading is very important because it allows you to see different perspectives and provides opportunity,” said Tonidanel, a native of Clemmons, N.C. “I probably take reading and having books around my house for granted, and want to give others access to books.”

Academy Book 2

The former NC Fusion player discovered Soccer F.C. on Charlotte FC’s official website and proceeded to contact its Executive Director Katie Phillips.

“Ms. Phillips and I talked about a few ideas, like pen pals for kids in the community, or soccer shoe and jersey drives,” Tonidandel said. “But she said the program needed books, so I decided to organize a book drive. It was a way for our team to give back to the community in a Covid world.”

Tonidandel proceeded to encourage his U14 teammates to collect books and bring them to practice—and cast the net as wide as possible in search of donations.

“We had a book bin set up so teammates could drop them off easily, and had several donations from the U17 team and our Discovery families,” said Tonidandel. “We also sent a flyer to opposing teams and parents at home games asking for their help—like a canned food drive but with books.”

With the help of Charlotte FC players, families, opponents and his neighbors in Clemmons, Tonidandel was able to impact the lives of over 48,000 children who live at or below the poverty line in Charlotte.

Academy Book 3

“We are so proud of Simon for showing the initiative and desire to organize this book drive, and for rallying the support of his teammates,” Academy Manager Dan Lock said. “It’s inspiring to see Simon and the boys show this kind of enthusiasm and public spirit.”

As part of the 2021 Academy program, every player will embark on a minimum of 20 hours of community work in a field of their choice.

“We know the importance of building a strong connection with the wider communities within the Carolinas, and we’re proud that our Academy players will be part of that,” adds Lock.

Prior to the pandemic, Soccer F.C. provided bi-weekly after-school soccer programs for elementary school children, with an emphasis placed on literacy. “After each practice session, our coaches would read them a story, ask questions, and try to relate the narrative to their own lives,” says Phillips.

In the past year, Soccer F.C.’s program has further emphasized its focus on literacy and is seeking book donations.

“I am super happy to represent this team and the Charlotte community,” says Tonidandel. “We want to give back to the community that has been so supportive of our club. We will be looking for new ways to get to know, and help our community even more.”