We recently caught up with former PPI-ME International Fellow and Operations Manager Michael Vaughan-Cherubin (’09), who currently manages United Soccer Club, a program that teaches soccer and life skills to inner-city and underprivileged youth in the greater D.C. area. He is also a Managing Partner at Global Game Changers, a consulting firm that helps sport-for-good organizations implement, improve, or evaluate their programming worldwide. Keep reading to hear more about Michael’s best memories of his time with PeacePlayers.
Can you tell us more about what you’ve been up to since PPI? Has your experience with PPI influenced your path?
Coming on board with PeacePlayers is by far the most influential decision I ever made. I still live the legacy of my time with PPI. I’m still working to educate youth through sport. Following my fellowship, I took a job with DC United, the MLS soccer team in DC. I help with their foundation United For DC. I work on a program that does soccer and life skills training for at-risk youth. We primarily work to educate about nutrition. Later tonight, I’ll be on the way to New York City to meet with five of my best friends and business partners, all of whom I met during my time in the Middle East. They’re my best friends and colleagues- we’re meeting all weekend about our company. During my time with PPI, we started a consulting firm called Global Game Changers to help organizations that are using sport for good.
What are some of your best memories of your work in the Middle East?
I started something called the Jerusalem Peace League, which brought eight teams together from all over the city to play in a weekly league. It had fifty-fifty Arab/Jewish representation. Our PPI teams were well-mixed, but the other teams were not. I was one of the coaches. At playing time, I couldn’t find two of my players, one Arab player and one Jewish player. I went looking for them- I was getting kind of upset and nervous. I found them in a gymnastics room, where they were just getting in trouble together, playing in a place where they shouldn’t have been. But more to the point, they were ready to break off and have a little teenage fun, even across Arab and Jewish lines.
My grandmother passed away the summer before I left Israel, the summer of 2009. My cousin Ellen also worked for PPI at the time. My nana believed very strongly in working for peace in the Middle East, and my father thought that we should do something in Jerusalem to honor her memory. We raised about $8,000 to build a court at the Hand-in-Hand School for Bilingual Education in Jerusalem to give the kids some space to play.
What do you love about basketball?
Basketball is a great game for teaching life skills, especially conflict resolution. The intimacy of the five players on the court, and even the larger twelve-player team, creates a close-knit team atmosphere more than other sports. The physical close nature of the game forces players to learn each others’ strengths and weaknesses. Each player is involved all the time. On a macro-level, too, basketball provides an incredible opportunity to bring people together. As an American sport, it’s a neutral, solid base to build on. Soccer, curling, rugby- there’s a lot more baggage associated with those sports in some of the conflict areas where PPI works.
What were you hoping to get out of your experience with PPI? What were some of your personal goals, and how did you grow over the course of the program?
I got my Master’s in Conflict Resolution at American University, and I traveled abroad to study in the Middle East. The chance to work with PPI was literally the most perfect confluence of my professional and personal desires. I knew right from the get-go that it was right for me.
PPI was a great organization to work for- I feel truly blessed. We had incredible opportunities to grow the program and to grow ourselves. When I was hired as Operations Manager, I was one of two full-time staff. We all learned and grew together, and when I left in the winter of 2009, the program was fully functional without American staff.
In my role as Operations Manager, I was managing my fellow fellows. That was a big step for me. When I left PPI, I’d gained experience running programs, but also managing personnel and human resources. For someone who loves basketball and believes that there’s something we can teach youth through the sport, there’s just no better opportunity.