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Debbie Pacchioni, from soccer to renewable energy industry
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Soccer has been in Debbie Pacchioni's blood since she was a 4-year-old girl watching her father suit up for his first practice.

"I started playing in the streets with the boys in my Sao Paulo, Brazil, neighborhood," said Pacchioni. "We used rocks or sticks to make the goals and I was barefoot because my parents did not have any money to buy soccer shoes."

At first, Pacchioni was interested in playing volleyball professionally but that all changed when her team's strength and conditioner coach let them play soccer to warm up. The coach told Pacchioni, then 15, she should play soccer, not volleyball, and gave her the Brazilian national soccer team captain Marcia Onorio's phone number.

When Pacchioni visited her first soccer facility with her mom to meet Onorio, she was mesmerized.

"This was the first time I saw women play soccer against each other," said Pacchioni.

Shortly after that visit, Pacchioni started playing for the Brazilian national soccer team making her the first person in her village to become a professional soccer player.

"Brazil is a very male-dominated country where women are told to stay home and raise their children to the exclusion of other endeavors," said Pacchioni. "The fact that I was the first person from my village to become a professional soccer player, not a man, made me very happy."

Ahead of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, the Brazilian team's training ground was in Rapid City, South Dakota where the women's team stayed in the National American University ( NAU ) dorms.

Pacchioni said the NAU president at the time approached one of the Brazilian team's directors and told him he wanted to start a women's soccer program at the college and give a few of the players a full-ride athletic scholarship. This is how Pacchioni was able to go to college in the United States and become the first person in her family to leave Brazil.

While attending college, one of Pacchioni's best friends was planning to travel to Chicago for an interview in 2001 so she offered to go with her and share the driving duties.

"When I saw Michigan Avenue and Lake Michigan, I felt in love and realized that America was a big place with amazing cities," said Pacchioni. "I remembered I had been to Chicago before when I was representing the South Dakota State Select Team but I did not have a chance to explore the city due to training.

"I had a friend who was the president of the Illinois State Soccer Association living there already so I called him and said I wanted to move to Chicago. This is how I ended up living here and playing for the Illinois State Select Team and then the Midwest Select Team."

The move to Chicago meant changing colleges. Pacchioni graduated from Chicago's Robert Morris College with a bachelor's degree in business administration and management in 2003 and later got a master's degree in sports science and pedagogy from Gardner-Webb University, which is in North Carolina.

"I am the first person in my family to get a master's degree," said Pacchioni.

Pacchioni was on the cusp of playing for the U.S. women's soccer team; however, her immigration status prevented her from joining the team. This led her to start Sprouts Athletics, where she coached at the youth developmental level.

"My passion about teaching and child development was the catalyst for Sprouts Athletics, a program using a sport and its movement to boost cognitive development in young children," said Pacchioni.

After 17 years of coaching, Pacchioni saw that youth clubs were changing their focus to becoming a money-making enterprise versus a place where kids can learn and grown so she decided to take a break from coaching a few years ago.

"When my dad died and while facing depression, I realized I needed a change in my life," said Pacchioni. "I took a deep look from the inside out and started to work on myself. It was not an easy time, but it was needed. In the process, I started to realize that I wanted to do something bigger with my life by helping others as well as the ecosystem we live in."

Pacchioni started working as an independent consultant, bringing sponsors such as Wintrust, Go Go Yogurt, Kind Bar and others to the professional women soccer league.

Another client was an English sporting goods brand that she helped break into the U.S. soccer market.

"Although I was having success as a consultant, I knew my calling was in the sustainable/green industry but I had no clue how to start," said Pacchioni. "I was introduced to the renewable energy industry and it fascinated me so I started working for Voltaic Energy Solutions, where I act as a broker to provide homeowners with the renewable energy solutions that best match their needs."

"My job is to educate communities, homeowners and businesses so they become energy independent while also helping the planet. My goal is to help individuals find renewable solutions to meet their needs in a more efficient and cost-effective way."

Pacchioni recently started her own renewable energy company, 312 Solar Group. Her dream is to provide jobs, especially for women and immigrants, through her company and as a result, have her employees feel good about their job and what they are doing for the environment. Pacchioni's long-term goal is to create solar farms to reduce carbon emissions due to fossil fuels.

Until recently, Pacchioni was not interested in a long-term romantic relationship. However, that all changed over three years ago, when she met Lauren Ducoli, who has two kids they are raising from a previous relationship.

"Life is way too short for us to not be who we are," said Pacchioni. "We need to follow our dreams and stand up for what we think it is right—no matter what."

For more information about 312 Solar Group, contact Pacchioni at .

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