At the end of the school day many children at School 12 go home with an empty backpack without books or homework. These same kids arrive home to an empty household while their parents are at work and sit around waiting for them to come home. With no incentives and minimal activity these young kids live in a difficult environment that lacks attention and care from adults. This is a typical story for kids living in Rochester with parents that both work through the late afternoon.
Six years ago, Michael Barnes implemented Grassroot Rochester with a goal in mind to promote physical health and education through the game of soccer. He used soccer as a tool for children to learn a sport that is adored by millions all throughout the world to keep children active and healthy. Grassroots Rochester has now given inner city families a tool to provide the necessary options to help children in school as well as in life.
“Once we came and saw the environment and volunteers, we just loved it,” said Glennice Williams, mother of Soccer Girls Rule participant Mary Williams. “It gives the kids a chance to come out in a safe environment and meet different kids…and they get good physical education.”
Working alongside Michael Barnes, Alyssa Abel began the Grassroot Rochester sponsored program, Soccer Girls Rule. It began three years ago as just a few free soccer clinics spread by word of mouth in hopes of eventually starting an 8-week long season. Today, Soccer Girls Rule has managed to become the only all-girls soccer league in the city of Rochester. Not only does it provide inter-city girls with a physical lifestyle, but it also strives to teach the girls the importance of academics through its reading component.
“When you live in the city and go to School 12, a lot of the kids participate in the inter-city programs,” said Justin George, father of Haven and Khamil Monk-George. Getting the kids involved in physical and educational activities with little financial commitment is what Grassroot Rochester aims to achieve. “Cost is a huge part of it when you are trying to figure out what your kids are interested in. I’m in to anything that promotes these kinds of activities especially in the city.”
Grassroot Rochester provides a safe recreational outlet for the disadvantaged youth of Rochester and introduces them to soccer. Grassroot Rochester is a University of Rochester student organization that utilizes soccer as a platform to deliver health education, longitudinal academic support, and leadership skills to empower local youth and the charitable organizations that work with them. The goal is to establish a soccer-based relationship with the youth that then introduces other sets of services to these children. These services include: subject-specific tutoring, mentoring by college students and exposure to higher education setting so that they can imagine themselves as part and parcel of an academic continuum. Ultimately, Grassroot Rochester endeavors to bridge perceived or real cultural barriers between the youth community of Rochester and the academic community of the University of Rochester, broadening the horizons of the participant youth through exposure to higher education and consistent role models.
When parents sign their kids up for the program they receive a reading log in addition to their team uniform. Each week the girls are challenged to spend time both playing soccer and reading. This encourages the girls to become both physically and academically engaged. Every Saturday when the girls arrive they must turn in their reading logs to their coaches who keep a running tally of how much they have read. The coaches then lead the girls through a warm up before they begin their 40 minute game. Following the game, the girls are handed a healthy snack and their reading logs are returned. They are reminded to keep practicing their soccer skills and read any book that interests them. We encourage the kids to share stories and books with their friends and family to make the kids feel excitement for reading. The more peers and relatives you have involved in the reading process, the more the kids will want to pick up books.
The city of Rochester has only a 57% graduation rate and is the 2nd highest HIV infection rate per capita in the state, next to New York City. Grassroot Rochester aims to combat urban Rochester’s all too familiar issues of poverty, obesity, and other social inequities with positive role models, as well as a higher standard for academic and athletic performance. Grassroot Rochester not only provides boys and girls with a healthy alternative the several destructive influences in our neighborhoods, but also emphasizes academic and life skills. Therefore, it has developed a youth empowerment-themed program that focuses on self-esteem, leadership, and health education. Through this approach, Grassroot Rochester will have the opportunity to impact kids through a growing sport within the Rochester community.