Photos and story by Lauren Womack
Val Kikkert says she never expected to be living in inner-city Birmingham after college graduation.
Kikkert, a 2009 Samford University graduate, grew up in a nice home, with a nice family, in a well-off part of town. With her parents’ support, she was able to play soccer throughout high school and college and had the chance to try almost any activity that sparked her interest.
It wasn’t until Kikkert’s senior year of college that she became aware of the struggles of children growing up in the inner-city, with little opportunity to learn a new sport or develop a talent.
That year, she was introduced to NorthStar Youth Ministries, a program that offers lessons in dance, art, music and soccer for disadvantaged children in the Birmingham area.
“Sharon Young, the assistant soccer coach at Samford, wanted to bring the soccer team outside of the ‘Samford bubble’ and get us to serve in a soccer context,” she says. “She got in touch with Paul Neville, the director of NorthStar, and he invited us to teach skills sessions for the NorthStar soccer program.”
Kikkert and the rest of the Samford Women’s soccer team worked with the program throughout that school year, teaching soccer skills to elementary school kids one night per week.
“It didn’t matter who you were, those kids wanted to play with you. The Samford soccer team, myself included, all of a sudden had this place in our hearts for NorthStar soccer,” she says. “I didn’t get a lot of playing time on the team, but I really felt like God had me on the Samford soccer team for a purpose.”
Kikkert says she has seen that purpose play out in big ways.
In the spring of 2009, Kikkert was looking to the future and planning her life after graduation.
Her plans changed, however, when she was offered a position as the NorthStar Soccer Club program director.
“While inner-city Birmingham is far different from overseas, it’s practically the same thing as far as being in a different cultural context,” she says. “I committed to NorthStar in March and started as program director in August 2009.”
Now, almost a year and a half later, Kikkert still serves as the NorthStar Soccer program director, leading soccer practices two nights per week, coaching games on Fridays and Saturdays and living alongside her NorthStar children in downtown Birmingham.
“It’s always been my desire to know Christ and to make him known. With that as my focus, it’s like I woke up one day and found myself in inner-city Birmingham,” she says. “I’m getting to live, work and play with my families at NorthStar. I’m getting to do life with them.”
Kikkert says it’s a big job, but working with the kids at NorthStar makes it all worth it.
“I feel like they give me more than I can offer them,” she says. “Sure, I’m doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes work and coordinating, but I’m doing it all for them.”
NorthStar Youth Ministries