Well, we did it again.
Over the month of June, the soccer community in Portland raised around $18,000 for the Q Center and for New Avenues for Youth’s Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center in the second year of the #RibbonZ campaign, Zarek Valentin’s dare-turned-bet-turned-fundraiser. Initially inspired by Hayley Raso’s signature ribbon — last year the campaign involved the Z-man donning a ribbon of his own — this year’s version grew well beyond the spur-of-the-moment spirit of its predecessor, which saw 107ist volunteers frantically buying out all the rainbow ribbon from every craft store in the metro area.
As promised in the sneak preview we ran earlier this spring, this year’s fundraiser was bigger and better, with five unique Pride-themed patches going up for sale, one for each PTFC home game in June. The whole thing was once again a collaboration with 107ist, with Patch Patrol members submitting four of the five designs (Valentin designed the fifth).
“I like all of them individually for different reasons,” said Valentin. “And the way they came out, the ode to Hayley was cool, the Stand Together axe with the whole organization... They’re all super cool for different reasons. I can’t pick a favorite.”
Although Valentin didn’t reprise his Karate-Kid look on the field from last year, he did lend a hand selling the patches. “I was at both Thorns games,” he says. “One game before Houston... I sold patches at the Fanladen and [about] 20 people came. I said screw it, I went to the line, which probably started [at] about the Friendly Bullpen and probably sold another 100 patches. Berated people. Scolded them for buying pizza, and they can’t donate to charity. We took card, we took cash, and we sold a bunch of those.”
One of PTFC’s youngest stars, Connie Valeri, also pitched in with her dad before a Thorns game. “Connie was an all-star,” says Valentin.
The magic of RibbonZ, though, isn’t Valentin or the Valeris but the soccer community in Portland. It was a conversation with a fan that inspired the initial ribbon-themed fundraiser (although Valentin says he and his now-wife, Liz, had been talking about doing some kind of community-focused initiative long before the infamous tweet), and 107ist’s volunteers and infrastructure enabled the creation of the actual product. Then, of course, it was fans who shelled out for the patches, more than doubling last year’s total.
Valentin says that in conversations he’s had with fans, “a lot of people are just thankful, which means a lot to me. And you know, I kind of view it as, why wouldn’t someone be using their platform to better the community? ... To me it seems like a no-brainer, if we have such an incredible community that will get behind stuff.”
RibbonZ also contrasts with MLS’s approach to Pride month, which has been mealy-mouthed if not downright hypocritical: the league named June “Soccer for All Month” and allowed teams to interpret that phrase however they wished, even if it meant making the LGBTQ community a footnote in favor of vague platitudes like “diversity.”
All five RibbonZ patches feature a rainbow, and the fundraiser benefits two LGBT-specific charities. Last year, Valentin called homohobia “freaking stupid,” a message the PTFC community embraces emphatically.
What does this money actually mean to its beneficiaries?
At New Avenues, “the donation will help fund the position of LGBTQ Specialist in PDX-Connect, New Avenues’ program that supports youth transitioning from foster care into adulthood,” said executive director Sean Suib via email. “The Specialist provides culturally specific coaching and mentorship to LGBTQ youth around life-skills development, counseling, education planning, job training, employment, and more.”
For the Q Center, “A gift of $7,000 would fund 6 months of Aging With Pride, our LGBTQ+ Seniors program, which receives 1,800 visits a year,” according to executive director Cameron Whitten, also via email. ($7,000 is also likely on the low end, though the final number was not available as of the time of writing)
The best part is that RibbonZ 2019 isn’t quite over. In the Timbers’ June 30 game against FC Dallas, Valentin donned a pair of rainbow-themed Nike cleats hand-painted by local designer Buhn Bee:
He plans to auction the boots off — with one signed by the whole team — at the Stand Together banquet, to benefit either SMYRC and Q Center or Stand Together itself. Finally, there’s one more patch release slated for sometime tomorrow. For $50, you’ll be able to buy the full set of five patches with a special gold border, packaged with a surprise special gift — and at a yet-to-be-determined price point, you can get the patches and admission to a meet-and-greet with Valentin and some teammates.