Principal Named One of 27 National ‘Community MVPs’ by Major League Soccer

Folks around Canyons District know Matthew Nelson for being the principal of East Midvale Elementary. But Nelson is much more than that if you ask Major League Soccer, refugee families he’s helped in and out of school, and people who know his story. 

He’s the real MVP.

Because of actions he took to give young refugees in the Midvale area the equipment and opportunity to play soccer, Nelson was recently selected as a 2021 MLS WORKS Community MVP by the league and Wells Fargo.

Nelson was among 27 MVPs around the country — one for each MLS club — who were honored for making a positive impact and for going above and beyond to help their communities. Each Community MVP receives a $2,500 donation to a charity of their choice, a customized adidas MLS jersey, and an MLS adidas NATIVO 21 official match ball.

East Midvale is a Title I school, with over 99 percent of its diverse student body qualifying for free – and reduced-price lunch, some struggling with homelessness, and incredible diversity that includes 17 different languages being spoken by students. Nelson has witnessed time and time again that some students enjoy playing soccer, but their families weren’t in a financial position to get them into the sport.

That’s where the principal, a former high school soccer player who has fun dribbling and kicking around with students during occasional recesses, decided to step in and make a difference.

“There’s a passion for the game within this community, but not the access or opportunity to play competitive soccer and not the gear,” Nelson said.

That’s no longer the case thanks to the efforts of Nelson and a bunch of other benevolent people in the community.

Nelson reached out to Cottonwood FC, a soccer club he helps coach and his kids play for, and they organized a drive to gather gear, like cleats, and clothing for East Midvale’s refugee community. They were blown away by the generosity.

“We got boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff,” Nelson said.

They also received a $1,000 donation from a parent and high-quality jerseys and other paraphernalia from RSL. They were able to give each interested young soccer player a ball, among other things.

Nelson worked with a local apartment program manager, where many refugees live, and organized a day to hand out the donations and to put it to good use. Kids from Cottonwood FC also came to play with their new friends and help them learn new skills.

“You could just see from the smiles on their faces how helpful this was. It was just one of the best days of my life,” Nelson said. “They know that the school cares about them, not just at school but after school as well.”

Two refugees from Afghanistan, who used to play on the streets of Kabul, are already making the most of opportunities in their new home. They now play for Cottonwood FC. One of the boys will play for Hillcrest High this spring. Parents from the club help by driving them to practice and games.

“It’s amazing to see how this community is coming together,” Nelson said, “and hopefully broadening each other’s perspectives and just bringing the world a little bit closer around soccer.” 

East Midvale Elementary Principal Matthew Nelson and Leo the Lion in a handstand competition.

East Midvale students have learned that their principal not only loves soccer, but he also has a rare talent. He can do handstands. Nelson even challenged Leo the Lion, RSL’s furry mascot, to a handstand contest when club officials visited the school on a teacher appreciation tour.

 Nelson laughs about the competition, which he technically lost.

 “He cheated,” Nelson said about Leo. “He stood on his head.”

 Regardless, the kids loved it, of course. Just one more thing the Community MVP has done to bring smiles to his students’ faces.

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Lucie Chamberlain

Alta View Elementary

If a movie about super teachers were ever made, Lucie Chamberlain would be a prime candidate for a leading role. Fortunately for her kindergarten students at Alta View Elementary, she already thrives in a supporting role for them. Parents thank her for being a “super teacher.” She is also described as an “amazing colleague.” Whether students need help in the classroom or from home while sick, Lucie goes above and beyond to help them learn, overcome fears, and feel important and cared for. Lucie is the reason a number of kids went from hating school to loving it, according to parents. The way she exudes patience, sweetness, positive energy, and love for her students with special needs melts is appreciated and admired. One parent noted: “Both my kids wish she could be their teacher forever.” Another added:  “She treats every student like their learning and their feelings are her priority.” Super teacher, indeed!

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