Many great ideas come about when someone identifies a problem and sets out to fix it. That’s exactly how Kensington Soccer Club became a force for good in an underprivileged Philadelphia neighborhood.
For years, Jim Hardy, a high school teacher in the neighborhood of Kensington, noticed a troubling trend.
He explains, “I noticed on the school soccer team that a lot of kids reach high school and never had a chance to play soccer at all. They were interested, but there was nothing for them growing up. We had some other players who had recently immigrated from other countries, where they did grow up playing soccer, and they asked me to help them find a team to play on. I took them to tryouts of big teams, and they were able to make the team, but they didn’t have anyone that could drive them to their practices and games, which were pretty far away. They couldn’t afford the hundreds or thousands of dollars that it took to participate in those teams, so after a few years of trying to find opportunities for those kids that were interested in soccer, I decided to start something myself.”
That is when Kensington Soccer Club, an organization with the motto “community advancement through soccer” was created. The organization runs an evening program, an afterschool program, and a travel team program where local youth can get involved in soccer. In addition to this, children are helped to gain essential life skills, such as leadership, through programs that allow local youth to become coaches. Young adults who have aged out of the program are given additional opportunities to stay involved through paid coaching positions. The transportation barrier is removed because Kensington Soccer programs are provided within the neighborhood, and many of them are hosted at local school, taking the burden of driving young athletes to and from practice off of parents. The economic barrier is removed because Kensington Soccer provides all of its services on a free/pay-what-you-can basis.
Although the program is thriving now, Hardy notes that, initially, progress was slow. Soccer is certainly not the most popular sport in the Kensington area. In the first few years, the organization struggled to get kids, and the parents who support them, interested in a sport that was very unfamiliar to many in the community.
Hardy admits, “We did have a high turnover in the first three to four years until we were able to get a firm group of the youth teen coaches. That’s what helped us get to the point where we’re able to hold onto a lot more players.”
Kensington Soccer Club is far more than a recreational program. In addition to playing soccer, the organization provides job training and helps young athletes apply for college. They also provide resources to help their athletes, many of which are first generation college students, apply for financial aid. The program allows young athletes to intern as coaches when they are in high school and offers them the opportunity of becoming paid coaches when they reach college age. In this model, the organization sustains itself. Hardy mentioned that twenty of the current coaches are “homegrown coaches that grew up with us and are now working their way through college making a difference with the younger generation.”
The efforts of Kensington Soccer Club certainly reaping results. As the motto suggests, the goal is to help the entire community advance. There are currently twenty players who grew up with Kensington Soccer that now have paid coaching positions with the organization. The vast majority of students involved with the organization have graduated from high school, which is a substantial achievement considering that 50% of the adults in the Kensington community have not graduated.
“At this point, over nine years, we’ve been able to grow the club where we have this great community of committed people with positive attitudes united with a hopeful approach towards each other, towards the community,” Hardy explains of the impact the organization has had on the entire community.
Kensington Soccer is a great example of a group of people who are determined to make their community better. Jim Hardy, and the hundreds of other parents, teachers, financial supporters, and volunteers who help make Kensington Soccer successful, realize that, although a game is being played, they’re role in the lives of the children is a very serious one.
“We have children whose lives are at stake. Their future opportunities are at stake. In our case, it’s using soccer, but the goal is to make sure that the whole community advances and we’re not leaving anybody behind.”