Wells Fargo helps Oakland Genesis reach its gooooooooaaaaaaaaallllls
An ear to the ground and connections in the community has players at the three-year-old soccer club looking good and feeling great.
Matt Fondy was ready to leave the pitch for good. Recently retired from a decade-long professional soccer career, Fondy enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley seeking a master’s degree in International Studies with the idea to one day help curb inequality — in all its forms — internationally.
Quickly, however, he realized making a change could start in his own hometown — Oakland, California — through the sport he loved. After reconnecting in 2019 with Cody Pillon, a former teammate at the University of California at Santa Cruz, the duo recognized that adoration for the game was just one of many elements that factor into the ability of teenagers to compete.
“We both played club soccer growing up and were fortunate enough to have parents who could afford cleats, jerseys, club fees, and travel,” Fondy said. “The soccer systems in the United States prioritize families from higher socioeconomic positions and devote little resources to other communities.”
Out of their self-evaluation and discussions, Oakland Genesis was born. The cofounders built the academy on five pillars — soccer, academics, transportation, mentorship, and college counseling.
"I saw the power of the sport. When Cody mentioned this idea, I loved it and jumped on board. It totally regenerated my world view of soccer.” — Matt Fondy, cofounder, Oakland Genesis
“I had done a similar program when I played in North Carolina that worked with refugees and immigrants, using soccer to bridge new families into the country,” said Fondy. “There, I saw the power of the sport. When Cody mentioned this idea, I loved it and jumped on board. It totally regenerated my world view of soccer.”
At its core, Fondy and Pillon consider Oakland Genesis a social justice organization. Through soccer, it addresses educational disparities and the inequitable resources some Oakland youth have access to compared to those in communities with higher income levels.
Since its founding, Oakland Genesis has reached more than 1,400 kids in the Oakland area, with nearly 140 players currently on its seven academy teams. It supports all 18 recreational centers run by the city and has participants from six schools in the Oakland Unified School District.
What it didn’t have earlier this year, though, was kits for its players.
Mario Holten, a social impact and sustainability specialist at Wells Fargo, like Fondy and Pillon, is an Oakland native. He prides himself on connecting people — “it’s kind of my niche,” he said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wells Fargo had a surplus of promotional materials that weren’t being used. So, when an email to his team asked for ideas on a home for the orphaned items, Holten connected with a friend from high school. A short time later, he was in contact with Fondy.
In total, Wells Fargo donated 900 jerseys, 900 pairs of socks, and 300 pairs of shorts for Oakland Genesis participants.
Ashly Loera, one of the program participants, started with Oakland Genesis two years ago, when the program was adapting to remote learning, held less frequent in-person instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and was still developing an identity.
Today, she’s a captain on an academy team, has seen her GPA increase significantly, serves in a mentorship role for younger girls on the various teams, and hopes to one day be an ultrasound tech. The confidence she’s gained from Oakland Genesis, Fondy said, is a shining example of what the program is — and can be.
“I’ve always been the type of person to step back and let somebody else grow,” Loera said. “I’ve felt I’ve grown mentally and obviously physically. I’ve built a whole family just out of the two years I’ve been here. It’s really healthy for me.”
In just three years, Oakland Genesis has become a well-respected entity in Oakland sports and education circles. According to the organization, the average GPA of its participants is 3.3.
And Fondy considers this just the beginning.
“Our pie-in-the-sky goal is to have our own facility one day,” said Fondy. “We’d have our own soccer fields, locker rooms, parking, classrooms, and places to lounge for our players. And along the way, we’d offer job training, recruitment support, whatever the families need. We really appreciate the support of Wells Fargo. It takes a community to do the work that we're doing, and we look forward to working together more in the future.”
Though an informal partnership, the bond between Wells Fargo and Oakland Genesis has grown stronger — Holten is now a board member.
“It’s really fulfilling,” Holten said. “I love that the academy is focused on benefiting my hometown. I know what it’s like for some of those kids, and something as simple as a soccer kit can do so much for their self-worth and self-confidence.”