Work to Play is our
flagship program.

Work to Play provides children in grades K-4 with the chance to belong to a soccer team, regardless of skill level. Children are taught important lessons about health, character, and teamwork by their coach. Membership means two practices and one game per week throughout the school year. Ongoing team participation depends on meeting academic and behavioral standards, as measured by their teachers on a weekly basis.

  • ↑20%

    Work to Play participants are 20% more likely to meet or exceed state standards on standardized tests than their classmates.

  • 96%

    96% of Work to Play participants engage in 60 minutes of play 5 days per week.

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Meet Neida.

The Work to Play soccer team at Daley Academy is intense! Some students are not able to keep up with the rigorous workouts Coach J has all the students go through in the beginning of practice. Neida Rodriguez is a dedicated soccer player at Daley Academy. Even though this is her first year in the soccer team, she has been able to apply all that she has learned about physical activity and nutrition in her life!

During the first practice, she was very shy and did not really want to talk to anyone. She would stand behind all the students when the team was going through their workout in the beginning of practice. While many of the students of the team were returning from the previous year and were able to keep up with the workout, Neida struggled the whole time. She was very red in the face and had difficulty breathing. She was trying to stay with the rest of the team while they were running laps but stopped halfway. She continued the rest of the practice feeling discouraged and did not want to come back to the next practice.

During a break, Neida told the coaches that she felt very self-conscious about being part of the team because she thought she was overweight and was not very athletic. She also complained about not being able to breath when the team ran around the field. When asked why she thought she was overweight, she quickly stated, “My mom thinks I am too fat to be part of the soccer team.” Even though her family told her that many times, she wanted to be healthier and thought the soccer team was the best way to do it! With some coaching on how to breathe when she was running around the field, she was able to complete the laps even though it was at a slower pace than the other students. She kept going and did not give up. After two weeks, she announced she had asthma, but that through exercising at practice, she had her asthma under control. As the season progressed, she was able to complete the practice at the same pace as the rest of the students!

During team discussions at the end of practice, Neida learned about eating properly and having balanced meals. Knowing that she was able to improve athletically through practice and hard work, she wanted to continue on a path to a healthy lifestyle through better eating habits at home and at school. By learning 5-4-3-2-1 Go! as her go-to guide, she was able to help her mother make healthier choices while shopping for groceries and while cooking meals. “I told my mom, ‘instead of manteca (lard), we should use olive oil or use vegetable oil,’ which she did switch out,” Neida said. She also makes sure that there are always vegetables in their meals, and instead of Mexican sweet bread, her family has switched to eating fruit. Her mother and grandmother are so happy with the changes that they have seen in Neida, who has lost weight and is more energetic. They feel like Neida is so full of life and has been a great help with getting the WHOLE family eating more balanced meals and doing physical activities as a family.

Take the Lead is a leadership
development program.

Take the Lead engages the most promising and motivated Work to Play alumni in grades 5-8. Participants are nominated by their coaches, and fill the role of Team Captain on Work to Play teams. Through this opportunity, they learn the merits of leadership, academic persistence, and community service, all while navigating the significant period of early adolescent development. They participate in all Work to Play sessions plus engage with adult mentors in small group skill-building sessions and bi-monthly cross-Chicago Take the Lead Retreats.

  • 100%

    100% of Take the Lead Team Captains are confident in their ability to be leaders of their younger teammates.

  • 97%

    97% of Team Captains exhibited high levels of classroom task persistence after one year of participation.

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Meet Romel.

A huge part of Morton’s success stems from the high energy at practice, the great attitudes of the kids, and the large numbers of kids at each practice and game day. Morton is entering the spring of its fifth season with Urban Initiatives, and one thing has remained a constant. Since the Work To Play program first began at Morton a member of the Goston/Booker family has always been a part of the team.

One major goal of the WTP program is to create a family atmosphere around the teams. Morton is an excellent example of the power that can have, as the Gostons and Bookers have continued to support and thrive in the program over the years. It all started with Romel, who was one of the original members of the soccer team. He has continued to be a part of the team over the last five years and is now a member of the Take The Lead captain program.

Romel not only contributes to the team with his leadership, but also with team numbers throughout the year. Over the years he has recruited several family members to the team. This season alone there are four members of the Goston/Booker family playing soccer. Romel’s brother, Jacquez, has been a member of the team for several years and is also a captain in the TTL program. Younger siblings also include Javarie and Jaeqwon who are both new to the team. Morton’s school schedule allows the players to practice before school starts. Each morning Romel and Jacquez get the other siblings out of bed and ready for the day. Once ready the boys walk to school together, where they meet the rest of the team and begin practice. They have told Coach Kevin they have been so worried about being late that they sometimes wake up at 5 a.m. just to ensure they are on time.

In the classroom, the family continues to excel. All four members receive fours and fives on their Work to Play Forms, and Morton’s coaches never hear about the four boys getting in trouble in class. At practice, if Romel or Jacquez see one of the other players doing something wrong, they quietly pull the player aside and tell him/her what’s wrong and what he/she needs to do to improve (either from a technical or behavioral standpoint). Both Captains have completely embraced their roles as leaders, taking on the responsibility of setting up games and working with younger players without needing to be directed by Coach Parker.

Morton School of Excellence is an amazing school and a great environment for the WTP soccer program to thrive. With the amazing leadership of family members Romel and Jacquez and rising stars in the program such as Javarie and Jaeqwon, there is no doubt Morton will continue to thrive.

Play with Potential is a
structured recess program.

Play with Potential aims to maximize the health, academic, and social and emotional learning benefits of recess periods. The program is offered to all students in a school, K-8, and aims
 to maximize students’ opportunities for physical activity, while promoting cooperation and teamwork. We have dedicated on-site staff and a broad recess curriculum that includes equipment.

  • ↑45%

    Play with Potential students are 45% more likely to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity than students at other schools.

  • 2X

    Play with Potential students are 2X more likely to engage in prosocial behaviors during recess than students at other schools.

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    Your donations allow us to create positive change in the lives of Chicago’s youth. All donations are tax-deductible.

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Meet Daley School on Cornell Square Park.

Daley Academy is located directly across the street from Cornell Square Park, a beautiful public space that has gained citywide notoriety for gang activity. When Daley began partnering with Urban Initiatives for recess in the Fall of 2012, there was understandable concern about using Cornell Square Park. Over time and with encouragement from Urban Initiatives’ staff, the school community used more and more of the beautiful play space so that students and the community could reclaim the park for its intended use: fun and physical activity.

As recess gained community recognition as a daily institution, school staff noticed that people who might represent a threat to students began to avoid the park. Gang members who used to hang out by the basketball courts during the day cleared out once they saw the park fill up with Daley kids every day.

When Cornell Square Park made national headlines for a nighttime, gang-related shootout that wounded 13 people, including a 3-year old boy, on September 20, 2013, recess immediately shifted indoors. One week later, with support from school staff and Chicago police, students were back outside, using the park for its intended purpose – positive play and recreation. Although gang violence is an ongoing concern in the neighborhood around Daley Academy, students’ use of the park for recess is a daily stand against violence. The teams at Daley and Urban Initiatives are working together with the neighborhood to keep Cornell Square Park a place for kids and families to be safe, healthy, and active.