MIDVALE, Utah (ABC4) — Adam Miles has a goal in mind that has nothing and everything to do with soccer. The Midvale businessman turned philanthropist had founded Refugee Soccer in 2016, a resource to help refugee boys find local club teams to play on. One night Miles woke up in the early hours of January 2023 and scribbled an idea down and over the next days he discovered how quickly a dream can become reality.

That quickly scribbled idea became #SheBelongs a program pairing local girls with refugee girls, ages 16-18 on a soccer team. Once he had a team, Miles had to find a place for them to play, and as in most sports, he decided to go big or go home – he aimed for an exhibition game at the 2023 World Cup in New Zealand with stops along the way in San Francisco and Japan.

Miles put his business sense to work and began reaching out to sports authorities, football clubs, and other refugee organizations, meeting with other organizations doing similar things in New Zealand and friends he had made as a well-connected businessman in Japan.

Miles’ late-night dream is taking flight, literally in just days, as the girls and coaching staff take off for these exhibition games. The games will be played against other teams that are a lot like this one made up of refugees and soccer lovers.

Coaches and players alike all agree it’s more than just a soccer team it’s like being part of a family.

“I love the other girls. They are so nice and really funny,” says Lexi Nelson, 17, of West Jordan. “We’ve become like a family so fast. I look forward to going to practice just to see everyone.”

Nelson is one of 11 girls who applied for and got a position on the #SheBelongs team. The local girls are from Logan, Ogden, Salt Lake City, Park City, & Saratoga Springs. There are 2 girls from out of the state; 1 from Maple Valley Washington, living in Utah, and a teammate from Cleveland, Ohio. All the girls have played for their high school teams and for clubs throughout the state.

It is more of an outreach rather than a sports opportunity although she says at first that was what appealed to her. “My mom found out about it and just one day told me ‘Hey you have an interview to get on a soccer team.’ First, I was excited to play soccer then I was excited to meet all the refugee girls.”

Lexi says she has learned so much from her teammates and the strength they have. The girls love sharing their stories, but their stories haven’t changed them,” she said. “They were so strong, it makes me realize I can do hard things too.”

Nelson like her other local teammates fundraised all the money needed for her to go on what she believes is a life-changing trip. “I worked at Bees and RSL games and reached out on social media asking for odd jobs,” she says. “It’s such a good experience, it makes you feel good to do something to change the world and to spread such a great message about inclusion.”

Miles said they had about three times the number of girls than spots on the team apply. Girls were interviewed and asked about what #SheBelongs means to them and of course, he kept in mind his mantra, ‘It’s more about the girl than the game.’

The refugee girls are from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Rwanda, Ukraine, Congo, Afghanistan, Jordan, & Iraq. None of them had ever played on an organized team before they walked on the field two months ago. Some of them had played backyard soccer with friends or family, however, their knowledge of technique, rules, and strategy was extremely limited, according to their coaches.

“These girls have shown so much love to everyone involved. They are respectful & hungry to learn new things,” says assistant coach Nicole Michaelis. “This project helps amplify the message I’ve always tried to empower my athletes with. Girls/Women are in a unique position to lead others to things that are good in this world. As women, we need to stand strong, hold our heads up high, love & embrace differences, meet others where they are & lift them to higher ground.”

The team catches a flight from Provo Sunday morning and although the trip costs have been covered, the organization is about $25,000 short of what was needed. The coaches, support staff, & non-refugee players have all paid their own way for this experience. The organization has been trying to raise funds for each of the refugee girls so that they do not have to put money down for this experience. If you would like to donate to help please visit the #SheBelongs donation page.