Lawrence Cann is the Founder and CEO of Street Soccer USA. In June 2014, Street Soccer USA and the U.S. Soccer Foundation unveiled a new Sport Court mini pitch at HELP USA’s East New York location in Brooklyn, NY.
The U.S. Soccer Foundation met an urgent need for a safe place to play after school in one of the least-served areas of Brooklyn. The new mini pitch at HELP USA in East New York is surrounded by three multi-family supportive housing buildings and sits across the street from a 200-unit family homeless shelter. Prior to the opening of the new street soccer court, children in the neighborhood after school program were limited to an unevenly surfaced courtyard and a small indoor multi-purpose room when it came time to play or engage in any physical activity. In general, children from the community are limited in their access to open space due to the turf wars that still persist in their neighborhood.
For the after school program, not only was the existing play space limiting, but it isolated the program from the surrounding community. Now, after school program participants have an exciting, outdoor venue for healthy activity, and equally as important, the program’s visible presence in the neighborhood has catalyzed several new partnerships and service linkages. For example, the after school soccer program now partners with Brownsville Multiservice Family Health Service, the local federally qualified health center, which ensures that 100% of participants receive annual dental exams and health screenings. Other partnerships that have taken place include one with the local high school; members of the Thomas Jefferson women’s varsity soccer team will utilize the space to practice and serve as mentors, role models, and volunteers at the after school program.
Another important development has taken place with the local domestic violence counseling center, called HELP R.O.A.D.S, run by HELP USA. Women who visit for individual or group therapy sessions are now able to enroll their children in the after school soccer program. This partnership has encouraged some of the women to join Street Soccer USA’s adult practices and has allowed us to engage clinical workers in our program to help identify signs of potential trauma among youth participants – a practice we are now formalizing and pursuing funding for from city, state, and federal sources.
Furthermore, the success of this field has motivated city council members in four other districts to host meetings about bringing mini pitches and soccer programs to their communities. A neighboring low-income housing project has already submitted a proposal to install two new fields and to run after school programming at their 2,400-unit development. Initial response has been favorable, and our hope is to start in the spring of 2015.
In just a few short months, the mini pitch at HELP USA has already had an immeasurable impact on the health and well-being of the surrounding community. What started as project to provide a safe place to play has resulted in a catalyst for ongoing positive change; its impact will be felt for years to come.