Connecting through soccer, art

At first glance her jobs may seem vastly different: Pam Snyder Etters is head coach of the Penn State Altoona women’s soccer team and the executive director of the Altoona Symphony.

She’s also the team leader and lead artist for “Murals Talk,” an initiative designed to foster acceptance, understanding and peace through art. And when Etters’ worlds collide, the result is magic.

“Soccer is a universal sport,” she says, “anywhere in the world people love it, and art is another universal language.”

Etters uses murals to make connections between communities; the first was between Altoona’s Juniata Gap Elementary and Tangier Smith Elementary on Long Island, shortly after the area was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Then, along with her Penn State Altoona soccer team, Pam traveled to Costa Rica in 2014, allowing her players to participate in both a soccer clinic and mural program. Altoona students studied the country and painted a mural representing the culture and history they had learned; then Etters’ team took the mural to Central American for students there to finish. The result was a work of art that shows there is much more that connects the two nations than divides us.

“The art translated to real life,” said Etters. “We come from differenced cultures, but the landscapes of our lives are very similar – we all have dreams, hopes, hurdles we have to get over; and with the guidance of mentors and support of our peers we can achieve our goals.”

The soccer players worked with the Spanish-speaking elementary students on the athletic field, and the language barriers quickly melted away.

The coach/artist had a similar experience connecting local students to peers in Jamaica, along with a small band of artists and the family of Penn State Altoona men’s soccer coach, Patrick Maurice “Mo” Taylor, who grew up in Waterhouse, Kinston, Jamaica.

“I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to experience the trip,” said Taylor, “To watch my boys gain an understanding of their classroom with all the trimmings, but that others are also learning without all the frills. It’s was a reminder of how long the journey has been.”

Etters and Taylor spread a message of hope in Jamaica, as the mural started in Altoona was completed, showing the country’s present and future, including the school’s mantra “ADIDAS” (all day I dream about success.) And again, the American party made connections on the soccer field.

“When my kids went to Jamaica, they had one thing in common with the local children: the game,” said Taylor, whose own childhood in the third world nation gave him insight into the Jamaican students’ lives. “Kids were playing all different ways. The field was crowded and we all had one language, and that was soccer.”

Just as Taylor inspired the students in his home nation, Etters’ mural program builds bridges across cultures, enriching all of those she touches, and leaving behind much more than a beautiful mural.

“Murals are my passion,” said Etters, “but we include the soccer team because we wanted to participate in community service, and it’s a way to be a good quality mentor for them, not just a soccer coach.”

The women’s soccer team is beginning its fundraising efforts with plans for another trip to Costa Rica this spring. Donations are being accepted through the Penn State Altoona athletic department.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org.

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