For Michael Wilbanks, it’s all about helping kids.
Employed by Social Empowerment Center for the last two years, and Pathways for five years before that, his job is to work with children on Medicaid and those who have been through the court and Division of Family and Child Services system. As a member of Eastridge Community Church, he has helped kids in Honduras through mission work for the last 13 years. And in his spare time, Wilbanks provides leadership every soccer season at the Covington Y.
Wilbanks has coached at the Y for the past eight years, and this past season led the under-10 and under-12 and 14 teams in the recreation league.
With no children of his own, he began voluntarily coaching as an extension of helping youth and donating his time to the community.
Generally enjoying being outside, Wilbanks played intramural softball in college, never really participating in soccer leagues. But he picked up the sport while serving on mission trips in Honduras.
On those trips, youths helped teach him both the rules of the game and how it could help break down barriers. In Honduras the barrier between the local children and himself was communication and financial means.
“They do have a lot less fortunate of a situation, and that’s the difference between here and there, but the kids enjoy it just as much,” Wilbanks said.
He began enjoying the game itself following those early missions, but for Wilbanks it was more about what happens outside the chalk lines of the soccer pitch. That is especially evident when children from the Social Empowerment Center come through his teams.
Several youngsters from the center play on his teams, both by coincidence and upon his request to as a way for them to keep active and work on learning a new sport.
“It’s a way for them to be involved with athletics and a way to work and play around with other kids,” Wilbanks said.
Working with the Y, and the organization’s scholarship for underprivileged program, including some of those with the Social Empowerment Center, helps Wilbanks reach a diverse group of young athletes. Some of those soccer players have gone on from the recreation league to the Y’s Galaxy teams, competing against other organizations throughout the state.
However, the soccer players who have moved on aren’t the only ones he’s proud of, as all use the sport to develop several skills.
“It helps their social skills and working with other kids and being able to have that team basis and an outlet for energy, along with having other kids they can be around and play with,” Wilbanks said.
For those reasons and others Wilbanks will continue coaching, and expand to other sports such as swimming.
"I think it’s a great opportunity for me to build on something and mentally to see how much I enjoy coaching and seeing the other coaches give back to the community when they are able too is great,” Wilbanks said.