Matt Besler’s new to Austin, but already feels like a member of the Austin community. So, when he and other Austin FC players were impacted by the generational winter storm that left many in Austin and throughout Central Texas without water, power, or both this week, they knew they wanted to take action.
They came together to create a GoFundMe to raise funds for those impacted by the extreme cold.
“The players were all just arriving here in the last few weeks, we're coming from different parts of the world," Besler remarked. "And we've already felt like we have been embraced by the city and by the community, even though we haven't even played a game and haven't had an official practice. I think a lot of guys were impressed by just the sense of community and the excitement around the team. And that’s the root of this.”
Besler noted that his new teammates live throughout the Austin area, with some not even in their new homes yet. And like their fellow Austinites, they are having wildly different experiences.
Some, like Besler, have been lucky enough to keep the lights on, while others have been without power for multiple days. Through a WhatsApp group, they’ve been able to keep tabs on each other throughout the week while sharing the sentiment that they wanted to do something.
“I'm sitting here with nothing to do, because you can't go anywhere, we don't have practice, and I’m reading the news articles and seeing all the Instagram videos of so many people struggling, and so many people that need help. And I just had the feeling, the urge, that something needs to be done.”
They determined that a GoFundMe tied to the 4ATX Foundation, Austin FC’s nonprofit entity, would be the quickest and most direct way to help. So Besler set the page up Wednesday, with his teammates' support and their pledges to reach out via social media and their friends and family networks once it was up and running.
“I've never ever set up a GoFundMe before,” Besler admitted. “I didn't even know what I was doing, or if I did it right. I was nervous when I clicked the button that says, “Go Live.” It was like, oh boy, here we go. This is either going to be something great or something embarrassing. Fortunately, it's turned out to be something special.”
The initial $5,000 goal was met in the first 30 minutes, and the fund was approaching its updated goal of $15,000 late Thursday morning, less than 24 hours after Besler hit the “Go Live” button. Then, a single, anonymous $5,000 matching donation from a generous fan bumped it close to the $20,000 mark (which it's since eclipsed), and the goal was then raised to $25,000.
Besler’s been impressed with the outpouring of support, not just from Austin FC fans, but also from people throughout the MLS community.
“Going into this, there were zero expectations,” Besler noted, “If we could raise a few hundred or a few thousand bucks, it was going to be great to help however we could. It's not only just the Austinites, as I've learned that we are called, but it's people from all over the country. One of the cool parts has been to see other teams get on board.”
He also notes that head coach Josh Wolff was one of the first people to donate. “I don’t even know if he knew what we were doing, because all this happened so quickly,” Besler stated. “That was really cool to see just him get behind the players like that and get behind the community.”
According to Kaitin Swarts, the Club’s Vice President of Community Impact and Executive Director of 4ATX Foundation, the money raised by the GoFundMe page will go to the Austin Area Urban League’s Love Thy Neighbor Texas campaign.
“We are committed to supporting Austinites in this time of extreme need,” Swarts observed. “The Austin Area Urban League is positioned to do that, especially in neighborhoods that didn’t have power or water for extended periods.”
“The main reason we are doing this is to help people, because people need help, and it is the right thing to do,” Besler said. “But beyond that, the inspiration is coming from already feeling a part of this community. I know all of us are feeling that. It’s not easy to move your family to a new city, to somewhere that you don't really know, but to be welcomed like we have been already, without playing a game, says a lot about the people here and about the city.”
“We’ll move past this, hopefully quickly,” he added, “and everyone's really looking forward to starting the season and being a part of this community.”
On Friday afternoon, the fund surpassed the $30,000 mark. To donate, go to the GoFundMe page; payment can be made via PayPal or credit card; donors also have the option of posting a message along with the donation to the page.