Richard’s Story

It’s all about goals.

Richard first got involved with Amaanah as a coach on the soccer program in its early days. He had filled in a general application on the Volunteer Link website, which helps local people connect with volunteering opportunities. He assumed he’d probably teach English or maybe answer phones for someone, but he mentioned soccer as an interest in his profile, and it turned out Amaanah was looking for people.

“A week later, I got an email from one of the team telling me to go to a sports field in West Houston and meet David Thanoon,” says Richard.  “David and a couple of his friends were trying to get a soccer program off the ground, offering a small league for refugees who didn’t have access to organized soccer. It took about ten minutes for me to realize I was going to be committing to this idea permanently. That was eight years ago now.”

Over the next three years, the coaching team really struggled with how the program was going to develop. They tried a few different versions, but the results were mixed. They could have anything from a small handful to thirty kids show up to play. But they kept going, and did what they could with what they had.

“The major turning point was the decision to established a competitive team to play in a formal league. It was David who had pushed the idea that only competition, and training toward something, would raise engagement. I was skeptical; I was worried about putting a group of young people into the HFA men’s league. But it turned out that this was the magic ingredient. Amine Amrouni agreed to take a lead in coaching the team, and we were ready to register. I was convinced we needed a name and an image that would be recognizable to everyone, and so after some discussions, the Amaanah Lions was born.”

The program was an overnight success. Everything clicked. The kids were enjoying it, and playing really good football. People understood the plan and engaged with the brand. The coaches became trusted mentors for the team and most importantly, team mates from very different places became a family very quickly. Championship trophies followed, and the program got a lot of attention. The team never had a clear plan, they just kept pushing forward and helping the people in front of them as best they could.

“I was asked to join the Amaanah Board in 2020. I actually wasn’t sure it was the right thing for me initially, but I agreed to talk about it. I had never seen myself in that role; I’m a soccer coach. I like grass under my feet. But in the end I understood the real opportunity, and it was nothing to do with me or what I wanted. The Board is an opportunity to heIp guide the organization, to apply your skills and experience to make us all stronger together; I hope that other volunteers will think about serving the charity in this way.”

Richard became Board Chair in September this year.

“I’m so grateful to have been involved in Amaanah all these years,” Richard says.

“It’s a wonderful organization, with a passion for doing the best kind of work in our community. I’m so proud of the staff, our volunteers, and everyone who partners with us to help Houston’s refugees. We have a long way still to go, but we get stronger all the time.”

  • Belief is infectious. You have to show people that you believe they can succeed. If they see that you believe in them, and that their team mates believe in them, then how long's it going to be before they start to believe in themselves? Richard Spragg

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