U.S. Soccer Development Academy clubs form the nation's highest level of youth soccer and as such, they have a unique position in their communities to make lasting impacts on and off-the-field. The San Diego Surf U-16/17 Girls' Development Academy team took advantage of that opportunity last week, serving meals to the homeless at a shelter in San Diego. Surf partnered with Heartfelt Helpings, a non-profit organization that provides services to men and women transitioning back to housing from homelessness.

"Heartfelt Helpings provides a really important service by making sure people who are trying to get on their feet get good, healthy meals," said Surf's Sophie Dimry. "Volunteering to serve those meals makes me feel good. I'm making someone's day a little better. It's nice to see the people you are helping and do something that you know makes a real difference."

"The charity event made me step back and realize how privileged I am on a day-to-day basis," added Sofia Beyer. "It is easy to take things for granted until you step into the real world and get a bit of experience from a different perspective."

Thirteen members of the team were led by Surf U-16/17 head coach Louis Hunt, who enjoyed the opportunity to teach his players some life lessons off-the-field. The club set up the visit through a club who connected the team with Heartfelt Helpings.

"Many of these girls go to expensive private schools, and they don't experience a lot of hardship," Hunt said. "That's obviously a generalization, but it put them in a situation where there were different types of characters in that room, people who have gone through a lot of struggle."

Serving as a leader in the community has become a core part of the Surf's club culture and player development philosophy. Hunt detailed the club's efforts to make community work a central part of its mission moving forward.

"We had a big shakeup and revamp this year about the culture we are creating at the club from the bottom all the way to the top," Hunt added. "We wanted to move a little bit away from making it so soccer-specific, but what we do to help the young women become more all-around people and get life experiences that will ultimately help them be better teammates on the field for themselves and their teams. It sets them up for post-club soccer when they go off to college and life."

In addition to working with Heartfelt Helpings, Surf plans to participate in beach clean-up projects in its local Del Mar area. As Surf continues to enjoy the inaugural year of the Girls' Academy, its players will learn how to grow on-the-field as well as become a positive force in their communities in the years ahead.

The team hopes its efforts will help spark a culture of giving back throughout the entire organization, starting in the Development Academy and trickling down to the younger age groups. Hunt believes the continued focus on serving others will strengthen the development of his players, both as athletes and as people, a principle part of what it means to be an Academy club.