SAN MARCOS — When Theresa Houshmandi heard several months ago about a Chevrolet program aimed at inspiring young female soccer players to achieve their goals on and off the pitch, she immediately thought of her daughter, Arianna.
Arianna is a ninth-grade student at Mission Hills High School, and plays for the San Marcos Revolution soccer club. She also wants to be a corporate attorney.
Flash forward to today, and Arianna is one of 11 girls chosen from around the world by the car company for the “GoalKeepers” program, which gives the girls the opportunity to attend a Manchester United soccer match before embarking on an eight-month, one-on-one mentoring program with a Chevrolet employee in the girl’s field of interest.
The Houshmandis just returned from the trip to England, where Arianna got to meet the 10 other GoalKeepers — two of whom were also from San Marcos and another from El Cajon — and meet the Manchester United players and step foot on the hallowed pitch before the club’s match against Tottenham Hotspur.
“It was really amazing, it was so great to interact with girls from all over the world, we have a special bond that will never be broken,” Arianna said.
“We got to meet the teams and the entire Manchester United Team, which was really amazing. They were super nice and welcoming and that was really fun, and we got all of their autographs on a jersey, which was a bonus.
“It was an unforgettable experience,” Arianna said.
Chevrolet has hosted the GoalKeepers program for four years, teaming up with the Women’s Sports Foundation to encourage female empowerment through the initiative, which is designed to demonstrate the possibilities sports can provide to millions of girls worldwide.
The girls over the next eight months will receive guidance from their mentors and will produce a project in their respective fields of interest.
Theresa Houshmandi said she learned about the opportunity from an email from the soccer club, and she filled out the initial application on her daughter’s behalf. When she learned that Arianna made it through the initial screening, she let her daughter take over.
“We learned about this program that was available for girls 11 to 15 years old, and how they could take a trip to Manchester, and do all of these cool experiences,” Theresa Houshmandi said. “The whole thing sounded so appealing, how can you not go for this?”
Arianna said the next round of the application process included a questionnaire, followed by an in-depth interview with the program coordinators via Skype.
After being selected, the girls were paired with their mentors, and recently completed an introduction in which the girls learned more about them, and vice versa.
Then came the trip to England.
Emma Cashman, 12, is another of the 11 GoalKeepers. The El Cajon girl, who plays for the Oranje Voetbal Club, said the trip allowed her to bond with the other girls through a series of goal-setting and achieving workshops.
The future interior designer who loves to watch “Fixer Upper” and “Property Brothers” said they also got to train at the Manchester United training facility with the team.
She said her favorite highlight was being able to walk on the field with them during the pre-match festivities, with each player wearing a jersey with the name of one of the GoalKeepers emblazoned on the back.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, a midfielder for Manchester United, donned Emma’s name.
“It’s not every day that one, you get to meet Manchester players, and, two, they know your name,” Emma said. “It was really happy and (I was) really surprised.”
Over the next eight months, Emma said she is excited to work with her mentor, Ven Lai, who is a creative designer at Chevrolet.
“I want to learn more tips about interior design, and she used to be a fashion designer and worked for Gap and a bunch of other really big businesses, so she is definitely experienced in the whole thing,” Emma said.
Both Emma and Arianna’s mothers said that they see the experience as giving them a “leg up” over their peers toward achieving their goals.
“It is kind of exciting to get to try all of it out to make sure this is what she wants to do when she grows up,” Theresa Houshmandi said. “They are definitely getting a leg up on everyone else, which is cool.”
And even if they don’t go into their current fields of interest, both parents said they are hopeful the skills they learn will translate to other fields later in life.
“It teaches them life skills and to think outside the box,” Emma’s mother Cheryl Cashman said. “I definitely would like them to be flexible, and the principals to be taught within this particular career industry can be overlapping to other industries.”