Arsenal in the Community

Emile and Leah join Christmas Day community call

Smith Rowe and Williamson

Emile Smith Rowe and Leah Williamson spent a couple of hours of their time yesterday in the company of care leavers from Islington - albeit via Zoom - as part of an Arsenal in the Community project.

As usual at this time of year, Arsenal in the Community worked together with Go Forward Youth, Islington Council and St Mary's Church to identify 50 young people from Islington Leaving Care Service, who each received a Christmas hamper and invite to the special Zoom call.

Emile, who took part in the event on Christmas Day in 2018 when it was held in the Hub, was on the call too for two hours of quizzes, games and connecting with other young people.

Here, our academy product tells us why the project is so special to him:

"Playing football is not the only job of a footballer. It goes much wider than that. I've known that my whole time growing up, but when you get older and your profile increases, you soon realise that people look up to you as a role model. 

"Most kids out there want to be doing what you are doing - they want to be a professional footballer themselves. They look up to you and I've seen for myself now what it means to people when they see you, when you can spend some time with them, and when you can interact with them.

"That's why I like to get involved in community projects, give my time and hopefully give some happiness to people at Christmas especially.  

"Two years ago I went to the Arsenal Community Hub on Christmas Day to visit care leavers, hand out some presents and play some games. The reaction from everyone there - just being able to put those smiles on people's faces - meant so much.

"It was a surprise visit. I had training in the morning, then basically went home quickly to go straight to the Hub at the stadium. 

"I went in and it was all a bit crazy! There were loads of people coming up to me, asking for pictures and it was so nice for me to see that as well. You could really see how happy it made them. It made their day, and it left something with me. It made me want to carry on, and continue to put smiles on faces whenever I can.

"Knowing you've given something back and helped someone's life even in a small way - there's no better feeling.   

"So that's why this year I wanted to get involved again. We have to do things differently this time of course. At Arsenal during this pandemic we've been saying that we're apart but we're always together, and you can see that we are still able to change people's lives, but in a different way. 

"So this year to do it via a Zoom call, and do quizzes and games with them, is great and another way of reaching our fans and the people who need our support. 

"Fortunately, as footballers we're in the position to be able help other people, so whenever we are able to, we have to find a way to do it. It's always good to try. 

"And it made sense for me to get involved with Islington Council's Care Leavers Service, because my dad has been working for them for a while now.

"He's involved there and arranges those campaigns, so he suggested it would be good for me for to go along as well. It's only when you see it yourself that you realise how important your presence there can be for people. 

"Me, a player from Arsenal, had come to see them and meant a lot to them, and it had an effect on me too. 

"It's important to me, because there are a lot of kids and young adults out there who are not as fortunate as me to have their family around them at Christmas. By doing this it gives them an opportunity to enjoy their day, and to give them some presents. I'm still young myself, just 20, but I'm now at an age where I realise that I can afford to help people out.

"I've grown up with this. We get taught about our responsibilities throughout our time at the academy. 

"When you start growing up you've got to start becoming more of a role model as well, and setting an example. That really educated me off the pitch. We would have meetings about it and discuss what our responsibilities are. 

"As you grow up you realise all the other aspects of being a footballer. And for me, I've come from a family where my parents have taught me the same messages, 'You have got to help people who are not as fortunate as you'. I've always tried to think about that.   

"As I said, my dad does this every Christmas so I'm used to not seeing him for half the day every Christmas. My mum's a head teacher as well so they are both used to educating young people and working with people who might not have that family support. 

"So growing up I learnt a lot from both of them and now I can see it for myself.
As an Arsenal man my whole life, it makes me proud that the club are involved in projects like this, and look to give back to the community.

"I remember as a young player coming through, it's always good to see your idols in the first team setting an example and giving something back themselves. It was a powerful message.

"I'm sure I speak for all of the young players, we always look up to the senior players and when you see them get involved in these things, it makes you want to be a part of it too. I've been inspired by those before me and hopefully younger players coming through now will also look at what we are doing.

"And for me that means getting involved at Christmas time. I want to do more of it in future. 

"Growing up, Christmas Day meant me and my brother waking up early, running downstairs trying to open our presents early. It was a tradition in our house though that we opened presents after our Christmas dinner - so we were made to wait! 

"But now I'm older and a professional footballer, it's very different. If we have a game on Boxing Day like this year, Christmas Day means training in the morning. It still gives me plenty of time to get involved with the community work though. 

"I want to keep helping when I can and keep taking these opportunities to help out. I want to keep getting involved. 

"As a professional footballer I know I've got the power to use my voice. I'm lucky. I'm in the position to help less fortunate people so I want to do that more in the coming years too."

You could really make the difference to a child’s life by becoming a foster carer.

Islington need foster carers to look after local children and young people. So, if you have room in your heart and a room in your home, find out how rewarding fostering can be by calling for a chat on 0207 527 7933, email fostering@islington.gov.uk or visit islington.gov.uk/fostering.

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