In 2012, the Utah Development Academy (UDA) was formed with a mission to provide all youth – regardless of economic circumstance – with an opportunity to play soccer. Libby Stockstill, volunteer coordinator and girls program director at UDA, notes that soccer plays an especially important role at the club, creating pathways for all youth by inspiring them to overcome life’s challenges and achieve their full potential.
“All of our teams are based locally within the heart of Salt Lake City,” according to Libby, “but a lot of our programming is in the neighborhoods that have the highest concentration of poverty in Salt Lake City,” she adds, “and the highest concentration of underserved youth in the zip codes that also happen to have the greatest number of youth.”
“There’s a lot of kids that can’t afford to play for some of the clubs because a lot of the time, the club fees are very expensive,” says Margie Arellano, board member and parent at UDA. But, as a parent, she sees how the club works to create opportunities to help make the game accessible to all.
To achieve this, UDA prioritizes the needs of the youth they serve. “We try to eliminate the transportation barriers by being in the neighborhoods where the kids are at and subsidizing cost while still providing high-quality and trained mentor coaches,” Libby explains.
At its inception, one such barrier that UDA had trouble overcoming was the ability to provide year-round programming in the winter climate of Salt Lake City. “Renting indoor spaces in Utah is big business because every sport needs those spaces, whether it’s lacrosse or soccer – or even softball is becoming popular using winter indoor spaces,” says Tyler Stockstill, executive director of UDA. “So, we applied for the Safe Places to Play grant to be able to acquire some Sport Court flooring to put together a couple futsal courts indoors at an old warehouse space that we had come across.”
In 2015, UDA was awarded a grant as a part of the summer Safe Places to Play grant cycle, which allowed them to install two Sport Court futsal courts. For Margie, receiving the grant “was actually one of the coolest things we’ve experienced [as a club].”
In particular, Margie cites the days-long process of installing the courts themselves. “It was such a cool thing to see the parents and the kids for those days just coming for hours and hours at a time and watching this floor get put together,” she remembers. “It was put together by kids who were going to be playing on it, everyone that was going to benefit from it. It was kind of like this mini-community that came together to do that.”
That sense of community only grew when the courts were put to use. “With the Safe Places to Play grant – to be able to develop a facility that has two, top-notch futsal courts – it’s been great because the kids feel like they’re on an equal playing ground,” says Tyler.
“It’s been such an amazing place for these kids,” Margie says. “This helps them develop their skills a bit more and keeps them busy too.”
UDA alum-turned-coach Erica Acevedo remembers the immediate impact the new courts had for her and her teammates. “We would have more time to practice and play,” she recalls. “We also finally had a home field in the winter to play.”
Not only have the courts given UDA a place to play year-round, the facility has also come to serve as a community gathering place. In addition to practices, the facility is home to the club’s main office; it has been host to big events, recreational programming for younger siblings, and coaches trainings; and it’s been a place where UDA alumni have come back to play and visit.
“We’ve had a facility to help with our big events [when] we’re trying to bring the entire organization in,” Libby says, “and that helps us with our mission because we’re trying to create a community within UDA and a supportive community between teams, between families, between coaches. Seventy-seven families have multiple children playing for us,” she continues, “so being able to have everybody there and to have a spot really does create a sense of community.”
Erica notes that “coming into this place always felt like home and still does. I feel like I’m in a safe environment surrounded by amazing people.”
What members of the UDA family – from coaches, to executives, to parents – can all agree on is that these soccer courts have had a transformative effect. “It gives these kids a huge sense of accomplishment that they’re doing something and that they’re doing great and it’s through soccer,” says Margie. “You see beyond just the game of soccer,” she continues. “You see kids completely changing.”
Online letters of interest (LOIs) for the fall 2019 Safe Places to Play grant cycle are now being accepted through September 27th. Follow this link to learn more about the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s Safe Places to Play grant cycles.