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Zarek Valentin honored as New Avenues for Youth’s “Scooper Hero”

The Timbers defender was recognized by the nonprofit for his #RibbonZ campaign

Kris Lattimore

Timbers defender Zarek Valentin was honored yesterday as New Avenues For Youth’s first-ever “Scooper Hero,” a gesture of thanks for his work on last year’s #RibbonZ campaign, which raised $8,000 for the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center, the nonprofit’s LGBT-centric initiative.

The event took place as part of Free Cone Day at the Pioneer Square Ben & Jerry’s, which New Avenues operates as a PartnerShop. According to Aiden Hirshfield, the development and communications associate at New Avenues, they’re the first nonprofit in the country to use Free Cone Day as a fundraiser, which they call Scoop-A-Thon; Bank of America sponsored this year’s iteration of the annual event, and the volunteer Scoop-A-Thon teams who scooped all that free ice cream also raised money in advance of the event.

“This year we really wanted to recognize one person who had done something really huge for our organization,” said Hirshfield. The idea behind the Scooper Hero award was to make the event extra special. “We wanted to double up on that and say, ok, we’re already using this awareness, let’s find someone who went above and beyond this year, and that was Zarek.”

New Avenues for Youth is a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention and intervention of youth homelessness. Essentially, the PartnerShop provides employment opportunities for marginalized youth who might otherwise have trouble getting that crucial first resume item — and also gives them the chance to rise through the ranks and gain experience in management positions. It’s one of three so-called social purpose enterprises operated by New Avenues.

“This award goes to, I think, the community more than anything, because this doesn’t happen in any other soccer community around the country,” said Valentin. “We raised $8000 last year, to help kids feel at home... it’s a very odd concept, because everyone deserves the right to feel like a normal human being, but sadly, people get persecuted because they’re different. I don’t agree with that, and the community doesn’t agree with that. So it’s something that is close to my heart. I’m happy to hopefully spread some good vibes and scoop some ice cream.”

Valentin, whose favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor is Tonight Dough, made the ceremonial first scoop with a special gold-plated ice cream scoop. “It’s a lot of wrist action,” he said. “I need to hit the gym, judging by how hard it was to get that first scoop.” Nonetheless, Valentin stayed after the award event to serve up some free cones.

For PTFC supporters, perhaps the biggest news to come out of the event is that the Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters will again be teaming up with Valentin for a Pride-Month fundraiser — and he says they’re hoping to double what they raised last June. “It’s going to be different,” he said, staying vague on details. “Let’s just say there’s going to be five stages of this year’s [fundraiser]... TA, inclusivity, Pride Month, all those things come into the five stages of it, and hopefully we’re gonna raise a little bit of money.”

Unlike last year’s #RibbonZ campaign, which all came together in the space of a single week after a dare turned into a viral tweet, this one has been in the works since March.

“If I’m given a platform as an athlete,” said Valentin, “I think we need to use that for good. We really let down the community if we don’t embrace these ideals.”

Kris Lattimore