For those who didn’t play sports in high school or who aren’t into sports now, don’t tune out, because what we’re sharing today isn’t just a sports story, but a look into how a generation is being formed and communities are being built — all without the Internet or a digital device in sight. Instead, we’re centered around a soccer ball and the Los Angeles Futbol Club Youth Leadership Academy (LAFC), which works to mentor youth in a part of Los Angeles known previously only by its crime rate (it’s 60% higher than the city’s average). Through partnerships with the LAPD, universities including UCLA and USC, and even the LA Galaxy professional soccer team, the LAFC is helping kids develop a skill set that wins long after a goal is scored. That’s something that everyone can get behind, regardless of whether you know the difference between football and futbol. Darling had the opportunity to ask LAFC co-founder Rich Orosco why soccer and why these kids? How does such an organization come together, and why is it important to maintain? Below he’s sharing how one game is changing the game, so keep reading and get inspired! Darling Magazine: Tell us about the LAFC. What need did you see in the community that prompted you to develop it? Rich: I was on the board and managed a team in a private men’s soccer league in Santa Monica for many years. My initial vision was to tap into the varied resources of our adult league (500+ working professionals) and build a youth community program in an area of need. South Los Angeles (formerly known as South Central) is an area with almost 200k people and there is not a robust infrastructure of soccer clubs or leagues for youth. The area is now more than 80% Latino, primarily recent immigrants from Central America, so soccer is a big part of their lives and culture. South Los Angeles is still the most violent neighborhood in Los Angeles and one of the most violent in the United States. The language of soccer is a powerful tool to communicate a positive message to neighborhood youth. DM: What is your sports background? Why soccer as opposed to another sport? Rich: I played soccer growing up and still play today. I’ve managed adult soccer teams and was a board member for our league. Soccer is a global phenomenon, and as I traveled the world I made it a point to attend local professional soccer games. It’s an exciting way to immediately learn about the culture and history of a city, and see a city and its people really come alive.
The language of soccer is a powerful tool to communicate a positive message to neighborhood youth.
DM: What are the age groups of the kids who attend the soccer camps? How do they get involved and how have you seen them benefit from it? Rich: Our program is run by 24 high school “interns” who are paid $100 per month. They learn job skills and life skills and take ownership of the events, creating an ecosystem of leadership in the community. The events are attended by 5 – 18 yr olds, with approximately 100-150 kids per event. They are held every other Friday, year-round. The interns in our youth leadership academy have shown a tremendous improvement in their people skills, leadership skills, confidence, and commitment to school and their future. DM: How has the community embraced the program? Was it difficult to get it started? Rich: Very difficult to get started, until you enroll a group of like-minded people who are committed to community. LAPD was the first key partner, and then Bresee Youth Center (top 5 in LA), LAUSD’s Augustus Hawkins High School, US Soccer, and finally, a grant from The California Community Foundation was the catalyst for our growth. DM: How have you seen the wider community benefit from the program? Rich: When the community sees resources applied to their neighborhood, it changes the entire climate.On Friday nights for the last 18 months, there has been 200 less kids on the streets. No official drop in crime stats. But that is a big impact, confirmed by the LAPD. We have mentored 24 youth leaders during this process, with great ripple effect on their family and friends. They have all done better in school and significantly decreased disciplinary issues at school. In addition the program has attracted a new group of 24 who now want to be in the program. The impact will be lasting. DM: How do you find volunteers to lead the camps? Rich: We reach out to LA’s major soccer organizations including LA Galaxy, UCLA Soccer, USC Soccer, Cal State Northridge, LMU, UC Riverside, and more. DM: In additional to developing their athletic skills, what other skills do you stress to the kids? Do you think they would be able to learn these skills outside of soccer? Rich: Our program is more than soccer. It is a job skills, life skills, and mentoring program for youth in the community. Soccer is our language to get their attention. We are unlike any other soccer program in Southern California, and among only a few in the US. That is our differentiator. Inner city youth benefit most from seeing a new perspective outside of their day-to-day environment, and that is delivered by one-on-one mentoring. Passing out soccer balls and organizing free skills clinics does not leave a lasting impact on lives, however, teaching a young person job skills will have a lasting, lifelong impact. The 4 pillars of our program are: Commitment MAKE IT WORK Community GROUP NOT SELF Integrity DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU ARE GOING TO DO Accountability OWN IT, NO EXCUSES DM: Do you see a difference between girls and boys who attend? Rich: No difference. Everyone loves the sport, everyone has passion for it, and everyone can be spoken to using the language of soccer.
Our program is more than soccer. It is a job skills, life skills, and mentoring program for youth in the community
DM: Do you see this program expanding in the future? How? Rich: Yes, we want to become the most impactful youth sports leadership program in the US. Our vision is to build more programs throughout the Los Angeles area, and eventually partner and share our best practices to help others build a similar program in their local area. DM: Can you share one particular LAFC success story that’s stuck with you? From LAFC Director, Anthony Cummings: Ernesto* came to Los Angeles from El Salvador with his father when he was 13 years old. He and his father journeyed across the ocean and were transported in the back of a large trailer with about 100 other Salvadorians, with only water and bread to survive. They were coming to this country to get a better life and escape gang-ridden El Salvador. At age 17, Ernesto’s father was placed in jail. After receiving news of this, Ernesto’s father’s side of the family disowned him and banned him from seeing or living with any of his relatives, fearing Ernesto would repeat the same patterns as his dad. Therefore, he was left homeless, shattered, and broken. Then, by the grace of God, a teammate of Ernesto’s (who is also an LAFC leader) invited him to live with him and his father. They live together to this day.
LAFC is more than soccer. It’s more than an academy. It is a place where kids who have dreams can flourish.
What’s remarkable is that Ernesto essentially lives on his own (although he lives with his teammate, Roberto). He has NO family support — emotional, physical, or financial. He is expected to pay a small portion of the rent each month and to contribute food in the house, all while trying to be a teenager and graduate high school. Ernesto has struggled, but he has also thrived through LAFC. He had to repeat his senior year due to missing too many classes and thus not completing his school work, not due to a lack of effort, but rather because he needed to secure a job during school hours. This year, with the help of LAFC, Ernesto has grown and even found some stability. He is receiving a stipend every month to help with those expenses and will finally graduate this June. He and another LAFC student leader created a business plan modeled after LAFC and won Hawkins High’s Best Entrepreneurial Senior project. After the victory, they moved onto the LAUSD district finals. Ernesto calls LAFC his home. He is the first to the field for every program and clinic and the last to leave. He is constantly looking for new ways to improve the program, help the kids, and help our organization grow. Ernesto is the reason we exist. LAFC is more than soccer. It’s more than an academy. It is a place where kids who have dreams can flourish. It’s place where they can grow, learn, and become. It’s a place where they have a chance. When the world tells them they are a bunch of Salvadorians from the ghetto, LAFC tells them they are leaders. LAFC reminds them they are champions. *Name changed to protect privacy. To get involved with the LAFC and to learn more, visit their website. You can also find them on Facebook and Instagram. Images via Kaitlin Kelley