ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. (WITN) - Many parents want their kids to play sports. It keeps them active, they learn how to work with others, but one sport has changed the life of an Eastern Carolina family, thanks in part from the love and support from their family's "coach", Kimberlea Bauer.
Soccer is a big deal in their Rocky Mount home. It’s also what’s brought together their unique team, of sorts.
"They just feel like family to me," says 12-year-old Gavin Bauer. He's referring to his big brothers and sisters, as they are called in this family, most of which were recruited from all over the world to play soccer at nearby North Carolina Wesleyan College.
"That's how I got to know the boys, 'Hey, anybody wanna make some extra money, coach the kids,' and then it became, 'Hey, Mama Kim, what's for dinner,'" Kimberlea Bauer says.
Her grocery bill is massive to say the least. Over the past ten years, Kim has built a relationship with Wesleyan’s soccer team and now more than a dozen students have lived with her family, staying anywhere from a week to years.
"Some of them are from Africa, Venezuela, Iceland, Germany, and their parents aren't here,” she explains.
"It's amazing that she does this for us without expecting anything back, just love and to be good kids," says Stephany Barbera, who plays tennis at Wesleyan. She is originally from Venezuela and came to the U.S. at 17 years old.
"Kim makes me feel like this is your home, we got you," says Samba Cande, who played soccer and graduated from Wesleyan in April. "I really appreciate that, I'm so lucky." His family is in Massachusetts, but they're originally from Cape Verde, off the western coast of Africa.
"They all family," says another soccer player, Abdoulie "AJ" Wadda, who moved to the U.S. from Gambia when he was 11. "We come here all the time after school and just play soccer with them outside, goof around, they love us.”
Christopher Imoukhuede graduated in April and is another soccer player originally from Gambia. He says, "She's like a mother figure, she's always been there for me, since day one,”
Kim says holidays are no exception. "This is their home away from home. I've had some pretty big Christmas dinners."
You can also bet that she'll be there at graduation.
“There was no reason for her to take us in and I feel like we landed in each other's lives for a reason," says soccer player Halldor "Dori" Bjarneyjarson, a Wesleyan alumni. He's one of the many Icelandic students that's become one of Kim's "adopted" kids.
"It's hard to put into words without getting emotional... the love that I get from them and that I want to give to them," she says.
But this mom to many found herself with a new 'goal', so to speak.
"AJ had not been home since he was 11 years old," she explains. "When he left Gambia when he was 11, and when he was 19, he said, 'I really want to go home.'"
So they packed their bags and flew overseas for a life changing experience.
AJ says it was amazing getting to go back home, but he could tell it impacted Kim.
"I think just how different it was, like with kids, poverty, like a lot of people were struggling," he says. "Like as soon as you step off the plane, you can tell it's no joke."
“Soccer balls made out of plastic bags, rags and twine,” Kim describes.
That trip would eventually lead her to creating a nonprofit called BundasKids.
"I brought shoes and jerseys and shorts and socks that I had just been collecting in the community and that's how it started," she explains.
The last trip to Gambia was this summer and she brought her 14-year-old daughter Gillian.
“It really just blows my mind to know how privileged I am," the teen says. "A lot of the kids don't even have shoes to wear and their streets are rocky and there's glass and broken things all over the place and they're just running around barefoot.”
BundasKids has donated about 350 soccer uniforms so far, but it’s become so much more. Kim now ships all kinds of clothes and school supplies, and they’ve even adopted a Gambian school.
She says it means, "Hope. And to know that someone cares. That Gambia is the smallest country in Africa. It's the fourth poorest country in Africa, the 11th poorest country in the world. There's 2 million people. We can make a difference."
"Sometimes it brings a tear to my eye to think about all she's doing for these kids,” her son, Gavin, tells WITN.
"She's an angel, one word, angel," AJ says. "And I'm very very grateful to have met someone like her. She's changed my life a lot."
Just like the game that brought them all together, this team continues to work towards their goal of making a difference.
"It means love, it means family, it means unity and we're a giant team now," she says.
Kim will be heading back to Gambia in January, so if you’re a soccer parent, consider donating any old uniforms or equipment.
They can also use monetary donations, because each barrel costs $140 to ship and last year they sent 20.
For more information, visit their website. The link can be found on the right side of this page.
Every featured mom will receive a $100 gift card, as well as free oil changes for a year from Johnny's Tire Sales and Service in Greenville.
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