Our biggest passion is improving the lives of the people around us.
- Patrick Swank
Best friends Spencer Lalk ‘13 and Patrick Swank ‘14 have a special bond. The two sports enthusiasts first met when they joined Arcadia’s Men’s Soccer team and they quickly hit it off. For three years, the Arcadians bonded over arduous practices, locker room banter, and celebrating each other's victories on and off the field.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sports psychology, Lalk moved out to San Diego to pursue his doctorate in physical therapy at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. A demanding study schedule and holding down a job as a physical trainer doesn’t leave much free time, but the New Jersey native was determined to make room in his life for the sport that he’s loved since childhood.
“I told myself that, no matter what I do, I’m going to have enough stress from school that I’m going to do something that I really enjoy,” he said. “A parent reached out to me wanting to start a soccer program at a Montessori school. I started to realize the potential there.”
In 2014, Lalk helped form the Soccer Unity Project (SUP), a nonprofit organization that provides children and their families the opportunity to be a part of a fun and educational soccer community.
“We offer after-school soccer to elementary aged kids of all socioeconomic levels. A unique addition that our program offers is the opportunity for our youth to get involved in community service events,” said Lalk who serves as chief executive officer and board member for SUP.
In addition to playing weekly games, coaches work with youth to plan bimonthly service projects. In the first year of the program, participants wrote letters to military troops and delivered them personally; raised money for Parkinson's disease and breast cancer research; provided social activities for elderly and youth living in homeless shelters, and donated 150 lbs. of books to be distributed to underprivileged students throughout the continent of Africa.
Lalk began to envision the possibility of building one of the greatest nonprofit organizations that San Diego has ever seen. He soon called on his best friend from college for help.
As Lalk tells it, “I reached out to Patrick, and asked him to come check out the project— he fell in love. He was all in.”
In January 2015, Swank packed up and moved to California to serve as director of operations and coaching. In addition, he's joined Lalk at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences to also pursue a doctoral degree in physical therapy.“School and the Soccer Unity Project keep us busy for sure,” Swank said. “It’s been an awesome experience to move across the country with one of my best friends to grow a company centered around something we both enjoy. We put our hearts and souls into this work.”
SUP operates as a league of its own. The organization currently has eight coaches working with 150 elementary students at six different schools throughout San Diego. Throughout the season, the teams compete against each other, but no score is taken during the games. The duo says they are more interested in camaraderie and teaching life skills.
“We’re teaching them that failure is an opportunity to learn, and that failure can eventually lead to success,” Lalk said.
Lessons from Arcadia
“We’ve never taken a business course in our life, but you learn as you go and you address the obstacles as they come. We learned that together at Arcadia. We are so thankful for the skills the University has given us to be successful in our careers.” — Spencer Lalk
In Ten Years...
“We’re going to expand throughout California and eventually the nation. We’re not forcing ourselves to settle. We could do something that would bring in more money but we choose not to. We wake up every day and we’re happy. That’s what pushes us forward. — Spencer Lalk