Otterbein Junior Riley Philhower Helps Refugees and Immigrants Score Big on Soccer Field

Posted Oct 11, 2021

By Payton Kaufman ’24

Shortly after junior Riley Philhower proposed an Otterbein partnership with the Columbus-area Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS) organization, he was awarded one of six 2021 Vernon L. Pack Fellowships through the Otterbein Center for Community Engagement.

The Pack Fellowships provide funds for community-based research projects, and Philhower sought to make a difference in the lives of Columbus refugees and immigrants.

Philhower rolled up his sleeves and put together the third annual Columbus Nations Cup with CRIS to raise more than $21,000, exceeding each of the previous two tournaments.

The annual soccer tournament was held on Aug. 29 at Easton Sports Park in Columbus for new refugee and immigrant community members and soccer fanatics alike. Both youth and adult teams had the opportunity to play.

“The goal of the event was to increase awareness and community engagement,” said Philhower, “and to build a connection between the communities and the individuals involved in this program.”

Soccer was the sport of choice for the tournament because many of the kids already knew the sport, as it is played globally.

“Sports in general don’t need for you to be from the same culture or communicate the same way,” Philhower said. “You just need to (be on the same field) together, and it will strengthen bonds between different people no matter where they come from.”

Philhower began his work with CRIS in May when Megan Chawansky, assistant professor of health and sport sciences, proposed the partnership. There was an existing relationship between CRIS and Otterbein that Philhower hoped to strengthen.

“My job was to increase engagement and build a connection between CRIS, Otterbein, and the Westerville community,” Philower said.

CRIS works to resettle refugees and immigrants in the central Ohio area.

“[I work with CRIS because] of what they do to help these new American high school kids,” Philhower said. “I think it is cool that they do not profit off of the money they raise — it all goes back to the kids.”

“[Riley upholds the ideals of the fellowship because] he listened to what the needs were from the community, in this case CRIS,” Associate Dean of Experiential Learning Melissa Gilbert said. “The listening and innovation was what we looked for in a Pack Fellow.”

While the Columbus Nations Cup has passed, CRIS has continued to work to find other ways to support new members of the community.

“They are one of the groups that will help to resettle some of the Afghan refugees,” Chawansky said. “Their work is important and timely, and should be supported.