Announcing Our Kindness Grant Winner for July 2024

July 2024 Kindness Grant Winner Kaig Lightner

Kaig Lightner, (Portland, OR), is the founder of Portland Community Football Club (PCFC), a program for teaching soccer to first- and second-generation immigrant youth who live in the city’s most diverse, low-income, and under-resourced neighborhoods.

After a year of scrambling to get seed money, Kaig (pronounced Cage) formed the Football Club in 2013 with grant funding and donated equipment from Nike. The club was a rarity because nobody got cut, it was only $50 to join but if you couldn’t afford that, it was free and they provide social services for players and their families.

Normally, for young players to participate and flourish in competitive soccer programs requires an unrealistic amount of money, time, and resources. PCFC was created to dismantle the barriers to competitive athletic training and opportunity and to provide a safe and brave space for all youth to gain skills, confidence, education, and emotional support.

In addition to supporting low-income, immigrant, and refugee youth, PCFC is one of the only youth soccer clubs in the nation that openly encourages and supports LGBTQ+ players, coaches, and parents.

Since Kaig started the club in 2013, he has become a friend, an ally, and even a father figure to many of his players.  But he had a secret and was worried that if he shared his secret, the players and families would leave the club.

He had always asked his players to be open and honest about their lives. That he had not modeled such deep honesty filled him with remorse. So, he took a deep breath and decided to speak up. That’s when he told the players he was transgender, that he had been born a girl. 

Kaig Lightner, Kindness Grant Winner 2024

Kaig talked about how he was bullied and made fun of growing up and said, “I began to think of myself as a freak, the feeling was that I don’t belong here. I don’t belong in any space.”

He “had always felt like an outsider and now saw that the players he coached — the children of working-class immigrants in one of America’s whitest cities — thought of themselves in much the same way. Considering how he could best help, Lightner focused on what had kept him going through all those years of adolescent anguish.”

“Soccer had been my main way of finding healing and connection, and I wanted that for these kids, too,” he said.

Shema Jacques, one of his initial players, said, “Suddenly, hearing that, it all made sense. This is why he knows what it is like for so many of us — not being accepted, trying hard to fit in. I actually felt more connected to him as he spoke, and I am not alone. He was still the person I looked up to and wanted to be like.”

No one abandoned Kaig after he came out as transgender. They fully accepted him and made him feel like he belonged. 

“Six years later, the only thing that has changed about PCFC is its growth. There are more coaches and a small administrative staff. The roster of registered players has swelled to 165.” It’s more than just a soccer club, it’s a youth soccer club with wraparound services.  They provide their families with fresh groceries, rental assistance, and help tapping into social services. They do what they can to help whenever there’s a need.

Kaig makes a difference in the lives of so many kids and their families. He’s a wonderful role model and the ripple of his kindness rolls on and on.  We’re proud to have Kaig as our grant winner and a member of our MKRO family. 

Is there someone who inspires you with their kindness?  Nominate them for the Matt Kurtz Kindness Award of $250.

Do you have an act-of-kindness project you want to do but need help funding it?  Submit your idea for the Matt Kurtz Kindness Grant of $500 and let us help you spread kindness.

4 thoughts on “Announcing Our Kindness Grant Winner for July 2024”

  1. Another wonderful, well deserving person for your award! We need more like him that kids are not afraid to relate to and grow and flourish. Thanks for the inspiring and interesting post Jackie! Bev

  2. I think it is wonderful and so beneficial to involve kids in sports. It gives them a sense of belonging, teaches social skills and is fun for them.

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