Last weekend, the Rutgers women’s soccer program hosted its second annual “Fearless Together” fundraiser. It was in partnership with RWJ Barnabas Health and held at the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital Courtyard. It was a sold out event of almost 300 attendees that was headlined by featured guest speaker Heather O’Reilly. She is an Olympic Gold Medalist and U.S. Women’s National Team World Cup Champion. Additional guest speakers included former Scarlet Knight soccer player and the first female on a technical staff in MLS history, Meghan Cameron, Rutgers senior and All-Big Ten player Kenie Wright, as well as Players Development Academy member Nicky Chico.
In speaking with Trish DiPaolo, the Director of Operations for the women’s soccer program and the one who spearheaded this event, the mission of this initiative is a tremendous one.
“We started the event last year as a mental health initiative targeted for young girls to provide a platform for them to learn from positive role models”, said DiPaolo. “At times, there is going to be some turbulence in your life. We want to put these positive role models in front of them to be able to relate to them and hear their stories to help guide them through the experience of life”
In asking DiPaolo on how the theme of the event was developed, she stated, “we went with the theme of fearless, because we wanted to honor the Fearless Girl statue on Wall Street, which is little girl that faces off against the Charging Bull. (note: the statue is being relocated in front of the New York Stock Exchange). Fearlessness is something that is natural in all girls, but it needs to be empowered and protected. We wanted to come together and give them that to inspire fearlessness and support that. We want to help grow mentally resilient girls into strong, sufficient women.”
DiPaolo and the program kicked off this fundraiser with someone that was a trailblazer in this area. “Last year, we partnered with Broadway star Mandy Gonzalez, who started a social media group called the Fearless Squad. We thought it aligned with what we were looking to do, as her mission is defined by these four qualities: Help each other when we fall, embrace differences, look for the good, and dream big”, said DiPaolo. She continued, “we wanted to create an infrastructure within out community for support and anything that we do, it’s together. We want to encourage kids to be there for each other, not against each other. It’s an important message we want to give kids in today’s society. We saw Mandy was doing that and she replied within minutes that she’d love to participate, which she did.”
DiPaolo added, “I want to thank Robert Wood Hospital for their generosity, their time and effort to plan the event with us. They made it special and we are so grateful for the partnership we have with them. They laid out an amazing setting and incredible food, we are so appreciative of them. Thanks to the Rutgers soccer players who helped drive the event as well.”
In addition to this event, Rutgers women’s soccer designated one home game per season as a “Fearless game”. Last season, DiPaolo said it took place during their breast cancer awareness game and we had an honorary captain in Rob Galante, who works for Rutgers athletics. We honored his wife at our breast cancer game two years ago and since then has since lost her battle. It was really meaningful for us to involve Rob because we want Kayleigh’s legacy to live on forever. They both mean so much to our program.”
Net proceeds of the event benefit the Rutgers Women’s Soccer Upper 90 Fund, which directly supports the needs of the program, both on and off the field.