NEW YORK - Nora Dooley and Mike Mazzullo both graduated from Columbia College in 2012 after playing four years for the respective women’s and men’s Soccer teams. Mike spent his summer off from teaching as a volunteer with the organization Nora works for: Coaches Across Continents. They’ve answered some questions to tell the Columbia community about the experience and show their appreciation. 

Who are we?

MM: I was born with a soccer ball at my feet! I grew up in Yonkers, New York and attended Columbia College. I relished my four years on and off the soccer field. After graduating, I pursued a pro career in Germany and worked a corporate job before landing my dream job as teacher and coach at my former high school, Fordham Prep in the Bronx.

ND: I'm a Boston sports and Barça fanatic, but most importantly a Lion at heart which made Columbia an easy choice. I realized during college why I always took competition too seriously - it's so much more than just a game! I set off two months after graduation to explore this passion in places I never thought of going, and I'm still on the move. I work full time with Coaches Across Continents, and I am endlessly grateful to work in places and with people where I can be exactly who I am (crazy), and do what I love (soccer). It is just the right mix to do something positive in this world.

What are we doing?

MM: Let me start by saying Nora, as leader of the programs, does most of the work! So I’ll let her explain much of it. One thing is for sure: fun is a requirement. This is made easier by the fact we get to play soccer every day.

ND: Yes we do! So Coaches Across Continents (CAC) partners with local organizations across the globe who have made the choice to use soccer as a means for positive social change. We spend at least three years with each partner group, training their coaches in our on-field sport for social impact curriculum, and support their efforts from afar while enabling them to solve their own problems. They of course know much more about these problems than we do. My job is to train the coaches, educators and leaders by teaching them a portion of our curriculum, which differs every week to suit the needs of the specific community and participants, and to utilize our Self-Directed Learning methodology. It is buckets of fun. I also have many off-field responsibilities that involve long-term sustainability initiatives and female empowerment campaigns. Mazz was a terrific help during his time volunteering in South Africa and Malawi this summer.

Why are we doing this?

MM: Education and soccer have always been two passions of mine. (Hence being a student-athlete at Columbia and a teacher + coach at Fordham Prep). Coaches Across Continents has an unusual platform: using sport to teach about anything from gender equity to HIV to mathematics. It’s education through soccer. Sounded like a great idea to me!

ND: Good question. I know why I started (similar to Mazz^), but seriously sometimes I have to ask myself the same thing. After 20 hour bus rides to another seemingly make-believe rural village in India or Kenya, or being forced to adhere to certain cultural norms out of respect like wearing long-pants in 100 degree weather in Indonesia or Cameroon, or not being able to discuss controversial issues because I might get kicked out of Uganda - I think most people would ask why? And then I inevitably come back to the people I am so lucky to work with; those who were born in these places and have overcome far more than my privileged self could possibly fathom. If what I'm doing helps empower someone beyond that next obstacle, I'm not sure I'll ever stop doing this.

What do we want the Columbia community to know about this work?

MM: I remember many volunteer projects at Columbia. Erica Woda (women’s soccer ’04CC) started a nonprofit Level the Field; many student-athletes have fond memories of volunteering with LTF in Washington Heights. The men’s and women’s soccer teams have participated in Cycle for Survival, to combat cancer. In a game this last spring the men’s team honored a local child and raised money for pediatric oncology unit in New York City. The Columbia community is generous. Coaches Across Continents is another organization that lions should be proud to support!

ND: If I look back on my time at Columbia, one thing I learned about the students is that most of them love to be different. Making your own choices is second nature. That's what we're all about at CAC. We're not just another international 'do-gooder' NGO running soccer clinics for poor children in third-world countries. Our beliefs take root in universal common ground - laughter, play, love, learning, and choice, with the latter two connected by our Self-Directed Learning philosophy. If you participate in any CAC training (or even staff Skype call) you will hear the words, "Solve your problem!" None of us have all the answers, especially for places we don't understand. CAC uses this game we unconditionally love to encourage people to question their environment, to not just accept something because "it is what it is", and to choose their own futures.

Who would we like to thank?

MM: I’m especially grateful for the outpouring of support from the Columbia Soccer community. The men’s and women’s teams were incredibly supportive (both in words and dollars). All it took was an email-blast and my inbox overflowed in a way I didn’t know possible! A special note to thank the Board of Directors from the men’s program, who showed great enthusiasm in backing my fundraising campaign. Also, have to thank Nora Dooley for inspiring and recruiting me to join!

ND: I first started this world tour with a different NGO in South Africa. Columbia Soccer and SAAC were so generous helping me fundraise for my year of volunteering. More amazing than any amount of money, though, has been the unshakable support from friends and family while I'm off the grid trying to send scrappy emails from suspect internet cafes. Soccer teams have always been family, and CUWS was no different. My coaches and teammates have contributed to this endeavor in ways they aren't aware of. So thank you!! One last person - I have to thank this guy Mike Mazzullo. He is the first to bite after my incessant rambling about how much I love my job and how everyone needs to come check it out. It was pretty cool having two CU Soccer alums uniting on shared passions in some pretty out-there locations! So who's next??

How can the Columbia community help CAC in the future?

MM: Everyone has done the first step by reading this article. Follow Coaches Across Continents on facebook and twitter bookmark website, check out the places they operate in and the priorities they advocate. You might realize there’s a personal connection, whether it be the joy of soccer or places you’ve visited or issues you care about, to the work CAC does every day.

ND: ^Well said, Mazz, and I've said enough. Thanks for reading - Hope to see some of you on a pitch sometime, somewhere!

If you’d like to know more about CAC contact Nora with nora@coachesacrosscontinents.org