Eleanor Goldman, Temple Emanuel

Eleanor Goldman drew on her love of soccer  when she was selecting her mitzvah project.  

As her mother put it, “Eleanor LOVES to play soccer.” She plays on three different teams, including a select team, Gallagher – Team Bolton.

Eleanor knew she had a mitzvah project she could sink her teeth into when she learned about SPENSA, Special Needs Soccer Association, a nonprofit St. Louis-based soccer program for young people with disabilities. It is open to boys or girls with a disability, ages 5 to 21. 

The project gave Eleanor a way to pass along the fun and joy of soccer to those who are interested but have been unable to participate in a traditional youth soccer program. The daughter of Elaine and Michael Goldman of Richmond Heights, Eleanor spent every Saturday this past spring as a volunteer.

As a “buddy,” Eleanor was matched with a special needs participant and engaged in different soccer activities or played in an actual game. After the first hour, everyone gathered in the center of the main field to do the hokey pokey to end the morning.

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Eleanor had a very positive experience with SPENSA. She did drills with the kids but has also opted for a game of monkey in the middle or a few minutes of hula hooping to break the ice for reluctant participants. Eleanor says it has taught her to read her audience in order to establish a rapport during the limited time they have together. “It’s important to connect and figure out your kid’s preferences pretty fast so that it’s a good experience for everyone,” she said. “I am thankful for these Saturday mornings because I know that I will need the interpersonal skills I am building at SPENSA all through my life.” 

A student at MICDS, Eleanor also raised over $2,000 (one third of SPENSA’s annual operating budget of $6,000) through bat mitzvah donations. She will continue to volunteer on Saturdays in the fall and, as she did this spring, invite anyone interested to join her. 

In her bat mitzvah speech, Eleanor talked about her work with SPENSA. 

“During our hour-long sessions, I helped people with disabilities learn and enjoy the game of soccer. There’s no score, no winning, no losing…it’s all doing — cooperating, encouraging, instructing and learning,” she said. 

“At the end of each Saturday morning, we all feel more skilled, independent, competent and confident. That includes the participants with disabilities, the coaches and definitely me. The experience has truly been a gift for all involved.”  

 Mitzvot from the Heart is compiled by Editorial Assistant Elise Krug.