A childhood friend and I were speaking on the phone about how much life has changed in the face of COVID-19. The grocery stores and markets in the middle-class neighborhoods where we live had been stripped bare of many essential items as people stocked up to prepare for weeks of shelter-at-home orders. It got us both thinking about how, while it was frustrating to find items, we were lucky enough to be able to afford what we needed for our families. Many others are living paycheck to paycheck and might not be able to do so.
My thoughts immediately went to the children and families in the communities the U.S. Soccer Foundation serves. Ninety percent of participants in our Soccer for Success program qualify for free or reduced-price lunch at school—a key indicator of poverty. For most of us, social distancing and school closures are a major inconvenience. For children living in underserved communities, it is a life-altering shift.
School—and after-school activities—provide the ability to get healthy meals. They provide designated time for physical activity. They provide consistent opportunities to connect with other kids and adult mentors. And they teach life lessons and provide tools needed to become successful adults.
At a time when the nation is rightly focused on flattening the curve of COVID-19, it is easy to lose sight of the incredible impact that this pandemic is having on one of our most vulnerable populations.
That is why the U.S. Soccer Foundation and our national network of program partners are working so hard to maintain the connection with the children we serve. This new reality requires us to build new bridges to kids to ensure that they remain connected to the positive influence of their coach-mentors.
The obvious challenge today is how to keep children engaged without being physically present together. It’s not easy. But at the U.S. Soccer Foundation, we quickly developed Soccer for Success at Home. This new weekly series includes fun and engaging video programming hosted by a coach-mentor. It shares resources and best practices from our program partners. With many households lacking access to personal computers and internet service, we are working with our partners to ensure kids and families have information about how to connect to the internet for free. And Soccer for Success at Home can be easily viewed on mobile devices, making it more user-friendly for everyone.
We also continue to convene our diverse national network of partners so that we can share what’s working locally to bridge the social distancing gap. Together, we can keep kids active and connected during this challenging time.
A recently published open letter by Coalition for Belonging, a group of youth-serving organizations working together during the time of COVID-19, states: “Too often, the voices of young people are not loud enough to be heard. Their losses aren’t easily quantified, and their unmet needs are invisible to the public eye. We see these needs every day. We have worked for years to meet these needs and we know well the consequences if these needs are overlooked.”
At the U.S. Soccer Foundation, we couldn’t agree more and will continue to do all we can to help address the needs of kids in the underserved communities we serve.