As the weather turns colder here in New Brunswick, NJ, and we start a new year at New Brunswick Tomorrow, we fondly recall the hot summer months jam-packed with programming. With generous support from the U.S. Soccer Foundation, New Brunswick Tomorrow hosted the Bobadilla Summer Soccer Academy. The Bobadilla Summer Soccer Academy is named after its creator, Captain Mike Bobadilla. Captain Bobadilla created the camp seven years ago as a volunteer who saw a need for children to engage in positive activity in New Brunswick – a city that has more than 13 active gangs, and the lowest graduation rate in the county, at 68.5%.
Using soccer as a hook to engage children during the summer, we saw an opportunity to reinforce youth development on multiple levels. Everything we did, and every decision made, was approached through a question: “What could make this an impactful program, where our kids could have fun, and we could sneak in some learning too?”
The camp focused on different themes each week. These themes were integrated into everything done at the camp, both on and off the field. Campers were introduced to new themes in a classroom, which were then transferred and reinforced on the soccer field. These included:
“Communication on and off the field” – campers learned the importance of communication, how to resolve conflict, and what non-verbal communication means. Soccer trainers explained how important communication is on the field, while counselors translated that into daily life.
“I am important to my team” – campers learned about self-esteem, healthy eating, standing up for yourself, setting boundaries, and establishing individual values. Soccer trainers taught specific skill sets and showed players how each of their unique roles fits into a team.
“My team is important to me” – campers learned social skills – from anger management to healthy relationships, friendship and bullying. Soccer trainers put this theme into practice, showing how teamwork is vital to success on the field.
“We are important to the community” – building on everything they learned all summer, campers gave back to their communities. Campers went through the five steps to a community service learning project, and completed a project of their own choosing. We held food drives, a street clean up, wrote letters and made bracelets for domestic violence survivors, made sandwiches at the soup kitchen, and penned thank you letters to police officers.
Counselors and trainers met daily to discuss what was happening on the field and in the classroom. Teamwork on the field turned into friendships in the classroom.
Did it work? Were we successful? In short, YES!
Here’s a snapshot by the numbers:
188 campers registered for the camp – a 40% increase over the previous year—and we had a 74% average daily attendance
23 high school junior counselors helped at the camp, learning peer mentoring and how to be a role model
20% of our kids had not played soccer before camp. Walking out of the program, more than 92% of all campers said they want to continue to play soccer
83% of campers demonstrated knowledge of healthy eating and making healthy choices
10 distinct community service projects were implemented in New Brunswick
I think the most telling sign of success lies within more informal ways of measuring, such as smiles, laughter and new friendships, all among children who were engaged and had a safe place to spend their summer vacation—five days a week for five weeks. These same children learned soccer moves and social skills. They learned about themselves, and how awesome they are just the way they are.
So as it gets cold this winter, I know I’ll stay a little bit warmer knowing the warmth of next summer and camp is just around the corner.
Meredith Masin Blount is Senior Director of Youth Services at New Brunswick Tomorrow, a non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of the people living in New Brunswick, NJ.