AJ has been involved in Premier League Kicks Sessions with the club since 2013, starting on the Harvist Estate and moving to inclusion sessions at William Tyndale and The Arsenal Hub. He has come a long way in that time.
He grew up in the shadow of the Emirates Stadium and has always supported his local team – so when the opportunity came up to start playing football on his estate, he took it straight away. Since then AJ has steadily increased his involvement with Arsenal in the Community and joined in with some of the inclusive drop-in sessions run by the club locally. Ten years from his first time at Kicks he is still attending sessions at The Arsenal Hub every single week.
Through AJ’s involvement with the club he has grown from being a shy, quiet youngster into a responsible and supportive young man who welcomes others at every session. He has become someone who sees himself as not only a key member of the group but someone who has a responsibility as a role model to step up and take responsibility within the group – whether that’s welcoming new players or helping with setting up or tidying away at each session.
Giving people a positive outlook is a key tenet of the Kicks programme and offering people a sense of belonging is one of the driving forces behind Arsenal in the Community. AJ has embraced both of these principles and made a point of passing them on to others who have found their way to these sessions – sometimes nervous, often shy at first – down the years.
It would be easy to downplay the changes we’ve seen in AJ over the past decade and simply put them down to him maturing, but his progress goes far deeper than that, from the softer skills and empathy shown by his treatment of others to being a leader among his peers through his dedication to the community. When you combine these skills with the fact that he is intrinsically highly motivated, AJ has a unique skillset of noticing when jobs need to be done without being asked or expecting feedback. That means his role within the group sometimes goes unnoticed. However, on the rare occasion when he is not able to attend a session his presence is missed and people immediately ask where he is.
On top of all this AJ has built a strong relationship with our staff and gives helpful feedback on how the sessions are going from the players' perspective. He is always willing to inform us on how we can continuously improve our sessions – a perfect example of how he has gained that sense of belonging and used it for the benefit of others.
“Being in the sessions means everything,” says AJ of his involvement with Arsenal in the Community. “It’s something I really enjoy and appreciate. I love playing football, and doing it in an Arsenal session means a lot to me.
“It’s a blessing that I’m still involved at the club ten years on and I’m very proud to be a part of what Arsenal in the Community represents.”
Luke Howard, who has coached AJ since the beginning and been there throughout his whole journey, says, “Having known AJ for a decade and seen him grow from a child to a young adult, it has been an absolute pleasure to be a part of that journey.
“From the quieter sessions where he supports his peers, to the busy sessions where he gives a helping hand and to representing the club at community events we have had ten years of brilliant memories with AJ.
“Looking back at old photos and talking about events we have been to it’s really affirming to see the number of opportunities we’ve offered and how often AJ has stepped up to make us proud.”
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