Sari Cohen, Congregation United Hebrew

Sari Cohen, right, and Megan

For her mitzvah project, Sari volunteered at SPENSA, Special Needs Soccer Association, a non-profit St Louis-based soccer program for young people who have mental or physical disabilities. Daughter of Ellie and Scott Cohen of Wildwood, Sari loves soccer and has been playing competitively for several years. She chose this project because she wanted to share her enthusiasm for the sport and help special needs children in a hands-on way enjoy the game.

Sari volunteered at SPENSA on Saturday mornings during soccer season in the spring. The games were one-hour long and she usually worked one-on-one with the kids. Sometimes there were two volunteers to each player, depending on the needs of the child. The ages of the players ranged from five to 21, but Sari usually “buddied” with a player around 10 to 12 years old.

The best part of Sari’s mitzvah project is that while she taught boys and girls different skills through the games and activities, these players taught Sari as well. She learned valuable lessons in acceptance, patience, compassion, and dedication, and will continue to volunteer in the future. “Soccer is a great sport, and everyone who wants to play should have an opportunity to learn how to kick the ball and score a goal. These kids are so excited to play it makes me feel good inside,” she said.

SPENSA is a very lively, positive, fun environment to play soccer, both for the helpers and the players with special needs. In addition to working on soccer skills, Sari helped the players make their way through an obstacle course, play the parachute game, and sing the hokey pokey in a huge circle on the field. Even if the players didn’t score a goal or kick the ball, they had a great time and felt confident. It didn’t take much effort to bring a smile to their faces, but it made a big difference.

A student at Rockwood Valley Middle School, Sari donated more than a dozen new soccer balls that filled her bima basket to SPENSA.  The organization really appreciated it because their equipment gets worn out with the active use season after season.  Sari plans to continue volunteering at SPENSA and bringing new soccer balls with her to share with the players every year.

SPENSA is open to any boy or girl with a disability, ages 5 to 21. It is designed to bring the excitement and fun of playing soccer to players who traditionally have not had a place in the youth soccer system. Games are normally played at the Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park in Fenton. The program is free of charge to all players and is privately funded through the generous donations of individuals, corporations, and many select soccer clubs. For more information, go to