Dr. Jason Morris, dean of ACU’s Honors College and founder of Play4More, has coached soccer for years. Now he’s using his passion for the world’s most popular sport to benefit refugees.
On Christmas Eve in 2020, Jason Morris could not sleep when the name Play4More popped into his head. Morris had been in discussion with his peers about a soccer ball company for about six months before Play4More came to life. The following summer, he went to the Maker Lab at ACU after a soccer camp at ACU for refugees and created the first Play4More soccer ball design with their help. Morris took these designs and had several prototypes made by manufacturers in order to evaluate the overall quality and appearance.
His third soccer camp this summer attracted 38 refugees, and Play4More is now selling the balls they helped design on Amazon. Play4More’s mission is, “Creating more moments of joy, through play, for kids around the globe.” Every time someone buys a Play4More soccer ball, one is given to a child in poverty.
“I wanted some unique pieces as to why we’re doing this, some social impact pieces that we can do good with,” Morris said. “That’s where the idea came, like, ‘Hey, for every ball that we sell, let’s give one away to a kid in a developing nation or even here in the United States to a child in need.’ We truly love that model.”
Morris’ Role at ACU
Morris wears many hats besides being the dean of the ACU Honors College. He also serves as the executive director of the ACU Center for Building Community and the director of Love Your Neighbor As Yourself Service and Leadership Program, and in his free time runs Play4More. Morris’ connections around campus supported his efforts in the creation of the company. He is often asked how he was able to start a new enterprise while holding down a full-time job.
“And the answer is it’s hard,” Morris said. “But you tap into people and build a team of people who would like to contribute and can learn from the experience.”
The process of launching a product to market provides real-world experience for the team members.
“As we move down the road, they’re going to be able to learn and then go apply it somewhere else,” Morris said. “We’re working on something that’s real, and it’s great to be able to include ACU professors and students who bring a certain expertise in that process.”
How an ACU marketing class helped set foundation for company’s success
Dr. Ryan Jessup, professor of marketing, teaches a marketing research course every semester, and several years ago his students conducted market research for Play4More. He has taught the class for over a decade and in it students learn to collect and analyze data to help client’s make better decisions. The class’s research determined that Play4More was a good idea and would survive. Jessup has played soccer for over 40 years and partnered with Morris to help with the initial market research related to the business concept.
“It would be really neat if you had a refugee design something all their people would recognize,” Jessup said. “I think there would be something really cool about putting your signature on the ball so that the ball reflected a real person, not just a corporation.”
In the U.S., the International Rescue Committee helps resettle 16% of refugees arriving to the country and IRC Abilene resettles 250 a year. Morris reached out to the IRC in 2019 to see if a need existed for a soccer camp for refugees in Abilene. Susanna Lubanga, the deputy director of the IRC in Abilene, said there was and a partnership quickly formed. Lubanga and Morris worked together to create a soccer camp for refugees with the company coming to fruition because of the camp. Today, the IRC and Play4More work hand in hand with weekly soccer games, annual soccer camps and designing new soccer balls.
“A lot of people have this idea that refugees are poor people that need help, almost a saving mentality, when that’s really not who they are,” Lubanga said. “They’re some of the strongest, most resilient people I’ve ever met. They’ve gone through situations I can’t even imagine going through and still being as strong as they are. Play4More draws on that strength and sees that refugee kids have a lot to give to our community, and they have the same vision Jason has for what their futures can be like.”
Morris has established partnerships with several non-profit organizations to distribute the soccer balls, including Rwanda Children, led by ACU alumnus Serge Gasore, and Love Does, founded by best-selling author Bob Goff.
ACU alum Serge Gasore is the co-founder of Rwanda Children, a non-profit that provides shelter, food, medical care, education and hope to at-risk Rwandan children.
Rwanda Children received several Play4More soccer balls this summer to distribute to the local youth. ACU’s Wildcat Academics on Mission program sent a group of nursing students to serve at Rwanda Children this summer and brought soccer balls to donate to the organization.
“It was very moving to see kids get the biggest smile when they received soccer balls that came from Play4More,” Gasore said. “They were very grateful and many will never forget how their first soccer ball they played came from Pray4More.”
One of the recent goals accomplished by Play4More is a new partnership with Love Does, a non-profit organization founded by Bob Goff. Morris read Dream Big by Goff three times and emailed him about Play4More. Goff replied, and now Goff’s Love Does organization is a ball donation recipient. Along with Rwanda Children, the IRC and Love Does, Play4More partners with the Zambia Medical Mission to further extend their outreach.
Love Does, established in 2002, fights for human rights, cares for the vulnerable and provides education in conflict zones. The company has outreach in over 10 countries and plans to help elevate Play4More’s outreach. Love Does also has a mobile food pantry in San Diego to connect with Afghan refugees and Ukrainian parolees. Annie Jacobs, the international programs manager for Love Does, has already helped distribute Play4More’s soccer balls to the Afghan refugees and Ukrainian parolees in San Diego.
“It’s been awesome to give them these soccer balls; the kids have loved it,” Jacobs said. “Soccer is a very universal sport, and several of them have played with them already.”
Abby Young, senior advertising and public relations major from Pennsylvania, started creating social media for Play4More this fall after a meeting with Morris. Young is working on expanding Play4More’s content by hosting events on campus in the future, partnering with Love Does and future soccer camps for refugees.
“I’ve come to realize that my career and the things that I need to have to make money and to have a livelihood can be something that is for the glory of God,” Young said. “That has been super eye opening and has expanded my possibilities for my career and for my future.”
Morris is still laying the foundation for Play4More but using his resources and connections to establish national reach moving forward. In the future, as the project progresses, he hopes to impact the very community that designed the balls by donating 10 percent of net profits toward a scholarship fund for refugees seeking higher education.
Morris’ mantra for Play4More is: It’s about the journey; it’s allowing me to do things I wouldn’t normally do and meet people I wouldn’t normally interact with.
“What makes us unique is that we’re engaging different communities that are ultimately helped by the production, marketing and sale of the ball,” Morris said. “If I just developed a soccer ball and it were my designs and I weren’t giving away a free one, it wouldn’t mean much to me. It would be like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ But the [social impact] pieces that we add really motivate me to move the project forward.”