When I first met 24-year old Philip Jones, it was the day before he left for his first solo trip to Europe and he was quiet with nerves, mainly concerned about missing his flights. “I was stressed out a lot before this trip, I’m not going to lie,” Phillip says when we meet again a few months after his return to San Francisco. “But even if I could have planned every second, it couldn’t have made it any more enjoyable or any more great.” The San Franciscan is one of the recipients of HI USA’s Explore the World Travel Scholarship, a fund that helps young people realize their dreams of traveling with purpose, and he got to go to Germany, France, England and Scotland for two weeks in the summer of 2016.
The travel scholarship, which was founded on the belief that travel should be as much about making a difference in the world as it is about seeing it, awards recipients with $2,000 to help finance an international trip that has an educational or service component. Philip used the fund to get to the Street Football World Festival, which kicked off in Heidelberg, Germany with productive sessions at the Design and Co-Innovation Center, and culminated with big fanfare in Lyon, France. After designing a prototype for a program focused on the potential for sport to better people’s live at a competition in the U.S, he earned the opportunity to present his work together with his teammates at this global event. Delegations of young people from disadvantaged communities around the world then brought their ideas together to collaborate on an app that would connect players, coaches and NGOs interested in promoting soccer as a means for social change with the help of AppHaus, a global app and website developement company. Together, the youth learned about managing a project, the processes needed to design an application for mobile devices, and how to present their work to a group of investors. Philip says he also learned a lot about managing his time and prioritizing commitments, which helps him every day back at home.
After the festival, he headed to London to spend time with a cousin he hadn’t seen since childhood and do some sightseeing, and then it was on to Glasgow, Scotland as a member of USA’s street soccer team for the Homeless World Cup. Days were spent playing two or three matches a day, exploring the rainy streets of Glasgow in between, and bonding with players from the 48 teams from around the world during dinner or while watching the EUFA Euro Cup soccer games.
“There was a big sense of coming together and kind of learning from each other,” says Philip, recalling these moments as a highlight of his trip. “I was able to talk to all these people and find out what life is like where they’re from and develop a relationship with people that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to come in contact with.”
At the time of his application for the scholarship, Philip was living in a transitional housing program for homeless youth while recovering from an addiction to methamphetamines. He was in and out of jail and still addicted in 2013 when he joined Street Soccer USA, a national non-profit organization that uses sports as a means to improve the lives of youth in underserved areas. Players of all ages are not only given access to safe places to play soccer with trained coaches, but they are also supported by social service coordinators who help them achieve big life goals in terms of education and employment. Philip would attend soccer practices when he could, but then, in an incident he calls lucky, he got arrested again in the beginning of 2015. “[The authorities] were pretty adamant on the fact that I had used up all of my chances, so I kind of went with the program until I got a clear enough mind to realize what I really wanted to do,” he recalls. “I was really selfish about the fact that if I don’t go for it now and try change, I might not make it.”
It didn’t take long for Philip to realize his potential as a soccer player, and soon he got a spot to compete in the national Street Soccer Cup before being chosen to be a member of Team USA for the international cup in Glasgow. He also got to participate in a local tournament to create a soccer for social change app, and his group won a spot to travel to France for the international Street World Football Festival. It was Philip’s mentor and Program Director at Street Soccer USA, Ben Anderson, who let Philip know that it was possible for him to go participate in these competitions with help from HI USA.
The rest, as they say, is history. Today Philip coaches kids from kindergarten through fifth grade when he’s not at school for visual media design, or working for a non-profit that helps young adults to improve their lot through internships, work placements or furthering their education.
“It starts with me,” he says. “I wake up in the morning and write a list of what I’m grateful for and it’s a good positive way to start the day.” He’s also gained a sense of confidence in himself and his ability to travel on his own, whether it’s to a different state or to another part of the world because, as with a lot of things in life, it ended up being not as scary as he thought it would be.
“I just want to say thanks for the opportunity and I’m really grateful. I’m glad you guys are doing what you’re doing,” Philip adds at the end of our talk. He tells me about a conversation he had with a friend at the shelter, explaining to his friend how he got to go on this adventure to Europe. “It opened his eyes, because he saw that there’s an opportunity to get himself closer to somewhere he saw himself being, and that’s really cool.”