From the Foundation Up…
by Patrick Todd Johnson | Cal South Soccer Magazine - November 2011 issue
"How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream;
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?"
Edwin Markham "The Man with the Hoe" 1899
Though he is now generally considered to be a minor (albeit influential) poet of his time, educator Edwin Markham has numerous schools throughout the country named in his honor, and at one point, five schools in California alone. Of these, only Markham Middle School is located in one of the most notorious gang areas in the world: Watts, Los Angeles.
Markham's designation as a "middle school" is remarkably apt when one reflects upon its position within its community. Markham is centrally located between all three of Watts' major housing developments: Nickerson Gardens, Jordan Downs and Imperial Courts - each one infamous in its own right as the birthplace of major urban gangs. While crime rates have fluctuated in some areas over the years, the safety of citizens within just a dozen blocks radius of Markham remains contentious, to say the least. Security to and from public places and parks is always a concern, for children and their parents.
Despite these circumstances, Markham Middle School has somehow grown to be recognized in recent years by the gangs in the area as "neutral territory" - as a safe, common ground. This status has created a space in which social programs such as One Watts seek to help build friendships between the youth of the different neighborhoods, which in turn helps break down the territorial reasons driving the kids of Watts to join gangs in the first place.
"The biggest challenge is gaining the trust of the kids and their parents," said Jo Powe, executive director of People for Parks, an agency that has collaborated with the City of L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks to build and support the One Watts program. "With such an entrenched gang atmosphere in Watts, parents are rightly concerned about their kids' safety. Any program in Watts has to start with establishing a high level of trust."
One Watts, originally known as the Watts Cluster Program, is considered by People for Parks to be a "Smart Recreation" program, for which recreation activities are designed to set social goals and to build community, thereby increasing the "life chances" for youth in the housing projects of Watts. Promoting teamwork, and personal discipline and responsibility are other goals built into such a program.
"The importance of this program is huge," said Powe. "One Watts is designed to build community… to break down those gang boundaries, giving the youth in Watts an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of participating in sports programs without the fear of negative influences. By organizing combined activities among the youth at all the different housing developments, One Watts helps build meaningful friendships. It also encourages active recreation and helps the Watts' youth understand the importance of healthy activity."
While People for Parks and the City Department of Recreation and Parks already had certain monies set aside to simply maintain the current One Watts program, the need to further augment those funds to expand the program's scope was recognized. "We wanted to raise additional funds for One Watts so we could offer a variety of activities and try to reach more kids," said Powe.
Enter the Cal South Soccer Foundation. Founded in 1999 by Cal South primarily as a future source for field development funds, the Cal South Soccer Foundation has grown over the past decade to allow for equipment replenishment for struggling programs, parking lot and lighting repairs for soccer facilities, and the creation of new leagues in areas in dire need of their own soccer programs.
After attending the annual Parks Celebration in November 2010, Foundation president David De Leon met with Powe to see how Cal South could help out. After several months of further discussions involving Jack Foley, the president of People for Parks, and Karl Stephens, the director of One Watts, the Cal South Soccer Foundation awarded a $10,000 Medium Matching Grant to People for Parks in June. Shortly thereafter, as a fortuitous bonus, One Watts also received the Gold Medal Spotlight Award from the Governors' Council on Physical Fitness. The monetary prize that came with the Governor's award gave One Watts $10,000 more to add to the funds already received from Cal South, People for Parks and the City, giving One Watts a total of $43,000 to help develop their burgeoning program.
The Cal South Soccer Foundation runs two funding cycles annually, to which programs apply to receive grant consideration. One application process begins in October, with accepted programs receiving their funding the following January. The second application process begins in March, with funding going out in June. When considering whether to submit a request for a funding grant via the Foundation, applicants need to be aware of the criteria that weigh heavily in deciding who gets a grant, such as program readiness, sustainability, and having supplemental and community partners involved in a program. While the Foundation gets its primary funding from Cal South, it also relies heavily on a partnership program, and will also accept monetary donations from those seeking to help grow the game of soccer.
When David De Leon was installed as the Cal South Soccer Foundation president in November of 2010, he immediately sought to identify the core issues that exist in Southern California and then determine how the Foundation could help to deal with those issues. De Leon and the Foundation Board made it a priority to identify two soccer complexes in each county to help support Affiliate Member programs and the Cal South State and National Cup tournaments. Tied directly into this identification process is the issue of the quality of the fields themselves.
"We have thousands of fields in Southern California but conditions vary a great deal," said De Leon. "Some people believe the primary reason is overuse but much of the reason is the lack of a maintenance program and the resources to implement that program.
"The chief problem is that cities and schools will not have the resources to build new facilities outright or sustain the existing ones. We will continue to work with the users of these fields, the cities and the schools in developing a maintenance program that will improve field quality." But there is an added step that De Leon stresses is key to this process: "Communities must develop partnerships to assist with these improvements."
To begin the process of educating the public, as well as Cal South members, about field construction and the importance of creating a maintenance program to help keep field conditions acceptable, the Foundation hosted a Field Development Workshop at Soccer Nation Expo 2011 in February in Long Beach. The Workshop was well attended and brought a lot of positive feedback to the Foundation. Bolstered by this success, the Foundation is planning on holding more educational workshops, on topics like instructing leagues and clubs on gathering community support, at Soccer Nation Expo heading into the future.
Another major area in which the Foundation seeks to expand is in aiding new leagues and clubs in being developed. Such an example is San Marcos Youth Soccer, which was only recently founded in February of 2011.
"We were a first-year league with little to no funds to start with," said John Gomez, president of San Marcos Youth Soccer. "We wanted to set our registration fees as low as possible, and receiving a grant for the purchase of new goals was going to help us attain that."
Gomez and his other San Marcos league VIPs attended the Foundation workshop that was presented at Soccer Nation Expo, and after being inspired by the discussion, decided to apply for one of the grants when the next Foundation process opened in March. In June, they were given a Medium Matching Grant by the Foundation. The arrival of the grant was quite timely for San Marcos, as they had originally projected a registration number of a thousand players for the fall 2011 season. San Marcos far surpassed that projection by registering 1,200 players overall, making the need to purchase new goals for the freshman league even more crucial.
"In one season, we became the largest youth soccer program in San Marcos," said Gomez. "The Cal South Soccer Foundation, Cal South and our District Commissioner have played a huge role in our success. As we look forward to our second season, the Foundation grant has allowed us to focus on growing the league by providing more coach and referee training and player development, without the worry of where the funds for goals and equipment are going to come."
De Leon is most adamant about the Cal South Soccer Foundation being able to provide funds for programs in those areas where soccer has not been solidly established as a local activity, and where large numbers of potential youth players do not have as much access to the sport of soccer. "We have communities that know very little about the sport, but kids that know a lot about it," said De Leon.
He points out the One Watts program at Edwin Markham Middle School as a prime example. "They built a brand new field, but had no resources to start a program. We felt that this was a good start in our effort to reach communities where soccer programs do not exist. We plan to continue to look at requests that will help us reach that goal.
"Our main purpose is to grow the game. We must continue to communicate this message until it becomes embedded into the soccer fabric."
To learn more about the Cal South Soccer Foundation grant application process, please visit www.calsouthfoundation.org.