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Monday, April 27, 2009

MOVER AND SHAKER: Ethan Zohn, co-founder of Grassroot Soccer and Winner of Survivor Africa

Ethan Zohn is a co-founder of Grassroot Soccer and is responsible for oversight of their US project, including corporate sponsor cultivation and technical program management. In 2003, Ethan was the winner of CBS’s television program “Survivor- Africa”, and he works to harness his celebrity for the benefit of Grassroot Soccer as well as other charities. Ethan is a graduate of Vassar University, and he has played and coached soccer professionally in Zimbabwe, the United States, and as a member of the US team for the Pan-American Maccabiah Games in Chile.

When Ethan was 13 years old, he lost his father to cancer, but was able to deal with and overcome the extraordinary grief and adversity of it to become a very successful person as well as someone that is extremely committed to his community . It was because of this strength that A Caring Hand, The Billy Esposito Foundation, awarded Ethan the 2008, Philanthropic Achievement Award. This event will be held this Thursday, April 30 here in Manhattan (see link lower in the article.)

Upon attending A Caring Hand's annual gala and getting to know the mission of the organization better, Ethan came to A Caring Hand's Bereavement Center to meet some of the children and he immediately felt the connection and the need to get more involved at which time he was named as an Honorary Board Member. In this capacity, Ethan volunteers his time to come by the Center and helps the organization raise donations at its annual gala.

Peachy Deegan interviewed Ethan Zohn for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What inspired you to start Grassroot Soccer?
Ethan Zohn: I lived and played professional soccer in Zimbabwe with the Highlanders Football Club. While there, I witnessed first hand what HIV/AIDS was doing to friends and how it was destroying the community. At that time, I didn’t know what I could do. So I put the thought of making a difference on a ‘back burner’. I became a competitor on the nationally-televised reality game show, Survivor Africa. While filming, I had the opportunity to visit a small village called Wamba.
I spent time playing ‘hacky sack’ with a group of HIV positive children; it was the joy I saw in these children's eyes that made me realize something had to be done to stop the deadly path of this disease.When you live in the epicenters of the global AIDS epidemic for sustained period of time, you come into contact on a daily basis with matters of life and death. And when human experience is stripped down to these two extremes, as it has been by AIDS, there tends to be no gray areas. Suffering is suffering. Loss is loss. Dignity is dignity. Compassion is real, or it doesn’t exist at all.

How do you think soccer can become a more prominent sport in America?
Soccer is the most popular youth participation sport in America. However, there are so many choices for kids to play sports, it becomes diluted as you grow older. When it becomes time to choose or focus on a sport, soccer is often dropped. Our professional league, MLS, is now in its 13th year and still expanding in addition to a new Womens Pro League WPS..all signs that soccer is here to stay and we are heading in the right direction.

What contributed to your success on Survivor?

Character. Passion. Patience. Heart. Will to take the good with the bad and push on through. Without ever really knowing it, I had brought along all the things that I needed to help me on Survivor. It was just me and my guts –because once you take away the food and water, and you’re tired and hungry, your true colors come into focus. All that was left was my character, my personality, and my personal values. That’s what helped me on the show and that’s what is essential to my life right now.

What did you learn most by participating in Survivor?
The interesting thing is that once all my distractions were taken away from me on survivor, I was left with nothing more than the bare essentials of who I am. And once I became aware that this knowledge of self is all that one needs to survive and prosper, I ended up giving my only possession away, my hacky sack to a little Kenyan kid. I realized that small gesture made a difference to me and to another. A toy to me was a luxury to him. And in the instant of handing it over I began to understand…being selfless…this is how we can change the world. Its what you do after the cameras stop rolling, when no one else is looking, that is what is matters. How you take what is given to you and make a difference in the lives of others, that is what matters.

What would you like the world to know about your father?
I have learned that to make happiness real for others is the greatest gift. It provides the foundation for celebration of life. My dad taught me this. I honor him by living each day fully and joyously, striving for hard to reach goals. I treasure this legacy.

How do you think your father would like to be remembered?
A man of honor, intergrity, humor and by his living legacy, his family Rochelle, Lenard, Lee and me, Ethan.

What is your favorite place to be in NYC?
Playing pick up soccer in Central Park.

What is your favorite shop?
The Union Square Farmers Market

What is your favorite drink?
An ice cold Fanta Orange in a glass bottle is pretty awesome.

What is your favorite restaurant?
Pop Burger, Tequilla Chita's, The Half King

What is your favorite thing to do in NYC that you can do nowhere else?
A full moon midnight kayak down the Hudson River to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
Using the bus as a form of transportation(you can sit, use your cell phone, people watch, its quiet, you get to where you are going, special lanes for rush hour.) The ice skating rink at Rockerfeller center(crowded, small, and hundreds of tourist watch as you fall and make a fool of yourself.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
I invented a cereal bowl called EZ Crunchbowl that will keep your cereal crunchy all day long. It will be showcased on Discovery Channels new show Pitchmen this spring.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
Messenger pigeon

Whom You Know's coverage of the A Caring Hand, The Billy Esposito Foundation – Proudly Presents the 7th Annual Fundraising Gala that Ethan Zohn will attend:

Ethan Zohn is featured above with Susan Esposito, Founder of the Cause

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