Brian Billings, the program director for Urban Initiatives Coaches Corps, offered this inspiring story of our program changing a young athlete's life. For the sake of privacy, identifying information has been changed. Coaches Corps is a program that enhances the PE classes and interscholastic sports programs of partner schools by training teachers and coaches on the Championship Attitude and 5-4-3-2-1GO!
Deron is an outstanding eighth grade student/athlete. He was our team’s lone captain by the end of the season, and was selected to play in the All Star Game and played extremely well. More importantly, Deron is a respectable young man who works hard in school and displays respect and kindness to those around him.
Sporting long hair is a common trend amongst professional and amateur soccer players. With his own long locks, 3rd grader Richard at Goethe certainly has his soccer look down pat. His skills on the field and in the classroom are an added bonus. While playing the “Number Game” Richard, or as his teammates call him Ricky, was continually brushing away the mop on his head to better his vision.
Once time expired Coach Cristobal, the Program Associate at Goethe went up to Ricky and suggested he cut his hair so it’s not constantly bothering him. Ricky replied, “I can’t, I’m growing it out because I’m donating it to kids with cancer.” Needless to say Coach Cristobal was amazed at Ricky’s generosity and gesture to those that are in need. Much like his attitude on the soccer field, Ricky is a “pass first” player.
The following are words directly from Ricky about his decision to grow out his hair:
Thanks to Coach Simba, the On-Site Program Director at Jenner Academy, for this blog post.
You see her walking down Elm Street at 7:20 AM with all three of her kids. Holding her youngest child Davarius by the hand she carefully crosses the street and enters the cafeteria with a smile and a warm greeting, “Good morning, Coach Simba”. She gets all her children's gym shoes out and tells them to hurry up and put them on while grabbing their shin guards.
This is Mrs. Austin, a dedicated mother at Jenner Academy in the Cabrini Green neighborhood who encourages her children to be active in extracurricular pursuits and the school community. She has two sons and one daughter (pictured) on the soccer team. I asked her a few questions:
How long have your children been a part of the Work to Play Program?
Why did you choose Urban Initiatives for your kids?
I wanted them to be challenged. It was something different. Soccer is not a popular sport among African Americans but I wanted them to learn and become more active.
A critical component of our Work To Play Program is the health and character handouts that we give to our soccer players on a weekly basis. These fun-focused handouts build on the health and character discussions from that week. The soccer players are asked to complete the weekly handout and turn them back into their coach. This provides the coach with immediate feedback that his players are understanding and internalizing the values that they discuss as a team. Plus, it's just plain fun for the kids!
The lunch room at Daley Academy is usually a sea of students’ hunter green uniforms, but a different shade of green is popping up these days - salad green! When Daley received their HealthierUS Schools Challenge award, the Wellness Committee (which includes Urban Initiatives staff from the Healthy Places project) worked with the lunch room staff to bring a salad bar into the cafeteria, so students could practice making healthy food choices for themselves!
“What is y’all thinking? Why are you doing that? You need to pick that up and do your homework,” the coach snapped. The offenders did their best to look ashamed, each beginning to pick up the crumpled pieces of paper on the ground.
“Hold on, I can handle this,” said another coach. “You guys know what the soccer team is about. You need to do well in school and eat healthy. You know that.” Pointing to a completely shredded assignment, “you probably need a new one,” the coach finished.
The action abruptly stopped, and the circle of kids and adults burst into laughs, cheers and applause. This role play activity capped off Urban Initiatives’ first celebration for our 5th-8th grade players, now officially called mentor-coaches.
Each week of the Work to Play soccer season has a special theme, ranging from Teamwork to Healthy Eating. The coach and the team discuss the theme at practice and the kids complete handouts that allow them the opportunity to share their learning with their coaches. Last week's theme was Self-esteem.
Self-esteem is how we see ourselves and how we believe others see us. It affects the way we treat ourselves, the way we treat others, and the kinds of choices we make. When we are proud of our actions, qualities, and relationships we will have high self-esteem. Grecia, a 3rd grader at Pasteur Academy, is very proud of herself.
Why? Because she is on the soccer team! Since joining, she has become a leader on the field and in the classroom; scoring goals and getting good grades. Grecia respects her teammates, coaches, teachers, and parents. Even her work-ethic has improved. After all, it took a lot of pride and hard work to make such a beautiful drawing! Congratulations, Grecia!
Urban Initiatives congratulates Coach Faye Stevens-Jett for being honored with the Coach of the Year Award from Up2Us, an organization that supports youth development programs that use sports to improve the lives of kids across the country. Coach Jett, the Athletic Director and PE teacher at Morton School of Excellence, is a member of Urban Initiatives Coaches Corps (UICC). The goal of UICC is to enhance the character development, health education, physical fitness, and academic engagement in youth in the Chicago Public Schools.
Yeira, a 4th grader at James Otis Elementary, loves being active. From the moment she climbs up the seemingly hundreds of stairs to the Otis gym on the fourth floor, Yeira’s energy and excitement is quite noticeable. Her commitment to the Urban Initiatives soccer team is evident each morning when she shows up to practice on time, is wearing her shin guards and when she tells Coach Sifuentes about the healthy food she ate for breakfast.
When asked what healthy foods she enjoys eating Yeira quickly responded, “Carrots and apples!” Instilling the idea of eating healthy foods and living active lives are the core of what Urban Initiatives teaches our players. The lessons our coaches teach players like Yeira on the soccer field translate to the classroom as well as at home. While at home, Yeira says she runs in her backyard and does jumping jacks. She also works on her soccer skills; her dribbling, passing and shooting has greatly improved as each week passes.
On Friday, October 7th, Urban Initiatives players from Libby, Walsh, Jenner and Prieto schools got to meet Mayor Emanuel and film a TV commercial! The Mayor's Office reached out to the Urban Initiatives team and asked us if we wanted to invite some of our student athletes to film a promotion for Good Morning America. We said “YES!” of course.
Several of our schools are on a two week fall break right now, and we recruited some of our soccer champs from these schools to spend part of their vacation hobnobbing with the mayor and getting their faces on TV!
While he was shaking the kids' hands, Mayor Emanuel commented, "This is my favorite part of the job!"
Stay tuned for info on where you can see the video of our students and Mayor Emanuel shouting “From Chicago!” for Good Morning America.
A big congratulations to Christian Gordon and Willie Mae Brooks, two Urban Initiatives soccer players at Sherman School of Excellence, who took 1st and 2nd place respectively at their school-wide poetry contest!
The following is an excerpt from Christian's poem, which speaks about economic struggle:
Unemployment is like playing soccer and you just want to kick
Minimum wage is like having a job and you just want to quit
Unemployment is like talking to a girl and getting hit
Minimum wage is like being at bat and you end up missing the pitch
Unemployment is not cool
Minimum wage is cruel
Christian and Willie Mae - Urban Initiatives is proud of you! Keep up the good work, both on and off the field!
Urban Initiatives' Work To Play Program has improved our participants' academic performance by using soccer as a reward for success in the classroom. Furthermore, Urban Initiatives' character development curriculum is critical in building a positive work ethic in our participants.
Urban Initiatives is also happy to announce that through a recent partnership with Camp Out For Kids, a nonprofit organization that gives underpriveleged kids opportunities, 17 of Urban Initiatives' most committed players will be heading to soccer camps this summer in Chicago. It's no surprise that, being the role model student-athletes that they are, Christian and Willie Mae are a part of this all-star group!
On a recent trip to the doctor's office, Maria, a fifth grade soccer player at Prieto Elementary, received some surprising news. Though many would prefer to avoid surprises in this particular setting, for Maria, it was nothing but positive. She recalled that her doctor was, "surprised because I used to weigh a lot when I was a little girl and they told me that I lost fifteen pounds." To make matters even better, she was also told that she now had a healthy BMI. When asked what her secret was, she responded with, "exercising and eating better at home and school."
After joining the Urban Initiatives team as a fourth grader, Maria quickly realized the benefits of adopting healthier habits. She recalls when her dad started cooking the healthy recipes which she received at practice; her family liked them so much that they "kept asking for more." When she wasn't at practice, Maria would go in her backyard to play soccer with her cousin and younger sister (both are now in the program as well). After last year's season ended, Maria knew that she "didn't want to quit soccer." She came back to the team as an assistant coach and continues to lead by example.
Urban Initiatives is thrilled to have the opportunity to spread the love of the beautiful game throughout Chicagoland. We greatly appreciate all of our dedicated coaches for their commitment to using soccer as a tool to promote collaborative, whole child development. The positive impact made by our coaches is tremendous and we are thrilled to share the following story about Teneil “Tippy” Robertson and her coach - Coach T.
Tippy is a fourth grader at Libby School and has played on Coach T's soccer team for four years. Throughout her years in the program, she has demonstrated excellence both on and off the field. In addition to participating in Urban Initiatives, for the past two years, Tippy has been playing for Gage Park. When asked why she interested in playing soccer so much, she said, “I want to be a professional soccer player or a coach."
Her mom, Ms. Moore, chimed in stating that her kids love soccer and that Tippy has set a great example for her first grade brother Oneil who is now also on the team. Tippy also has had two older siblings go through the program.
Thank you to Coach T for being such a dedicated coach to the youth at Libby. He has inspired so many and we’re thrilled to have him on the Urban Initiatives team.
I come from the same impoverished communities that most of the kids in our program come from. I know very well that unhealthy eating habits are often a pattern and that poor nutrition is also magnified by limited accessibility to healthy options. As a kid, I not only chose to eat unhealthy foods but I also had to put some kind of unhealthy topping or sauce on everything. For example, if I went to Harold's and got chicken I had to have " mild sauce " on it. That also went for any kind of fries I ordered. Or if I got some Doritos from the store, I would make sure I spent the extra 75 cents for meat and cheese to be piled on top. I wish I had been taught at an early age how to be healthier in my surroundings.
Last week on my way into the office after practice at Attucks, I saw one of my program participants standing with his little brother on the playground. I had found it weird that this child had not picked up his snack after practice and assumed that he must have packed something else in his bag. Then as I kept walking, I saw him pull out some grapes from his backpack. He began to eat his grapes and share them with his brother as his friends stood around him eating mostly chips and candy. I felt this moment to be a serious breakthrough. Poor diet and misinformation about health is a problem plaguing many urban communities in this country so to see that kid eating his grapes is a real testament to what we are trying to accomplish through our health and education soccer program.