City in the Community has helped expand Saturday Night Lights soccer citywide including the South Bronx thanks to the support of the Manhattan District Attorney.
Saturday Night Lights is a program run in partnership with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office designed to provide young people, aged 11-18, in underserved communities with high-quality sports training and academic enrichment during times when crime rates are at their highest - namely Friday and Saturday nights.
“We started this program five years ago in the basement of a senior center in East Harlem. The basic premises just offering soccer at high crime times on Friday and Saturday nights and engaging teenagers with free safe space to play soccer. It started out with a handful of kids but very quickly we had the gym packed,” said Paul Jeffries, Senior Director of Community Development and Head of CITC.
“We see soccer as a way of engaging young people and connecting them to positive role models. We want to develop this critical social infrastructure that helps reduce crime, develop friendships, create cohesion and give a sense of belonging, and in a way if you’re a kid who has never played soccer before and just wants a safe place to play or escape from all the things going on in your life, you can do that.
The program offers the youth from all five boroughs opportunities for growth and pathways into college and career readiness by offering mentoring, tutoring, SAT prep, and opportunities for employment.
“It’s not just soccer, we support them and make sure they are on track to graduate. We see soccer as a way of engaging people and connecting them to a more positive role models,” Jeffries said.
“If you’re looking for more opportunities, there are pathways to employment from being a coach, to being apart of the Youth Leadership Council, and an internship.
“We have an incredible story which has come full circle: We had a girl who would travel from South Bronx to play in the program. At the time she was the only girl but she loved the program so much she wanted to volunteer with CITC through our schools programs. She attended our young leader training and was selected to attend our Global Youth Summit in Manchester. She helped us open up an all girls site in East Harlem and also launch the CITC Youth Leadership Council. She has since been employed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office fulltime to supportthe expansion of Saturday Night Lights program citywide for all sports. So there’s these incredible pathways for young people to progress through.”
With the help of the District Attorney’s Office, the program has reached new heights. The success of the East Harlem location has allowed the program to spread to other boroughs.
“This expansion is the DA's understanding that we are succeeding in creating this kind of environment and they would like to replicate that in outer boroughs too. All of the coaches live in and are already active participants in their communities, and we hope to bring our SNL vibe to outer boroughs slowly,” Linda Li, Youth Advocate, told NYCFC.com.
“This expansion is just a first step to bringing the SNL soccer program across the boroughs. We hope that we can project East Harlem's achievements in retention and participation rate to outer boroughs as well. Social projects will be developed as we gain a better understanding of how each site operates and how we can form a unity between the boroughs. As we bring in moe youths to the program and consistently, we will be able to promote their participation in community.”
The success of the program has been well documented, not just through attendance, but by the lasting impact it has made on the youth and their journeys through life.
“We have had a 95% retention rate and most recently the last graduating class, 100% graduated high school,” said Jeffries. “We have six sites and we don’t want to stop at six, there are probably 800 gyms closed on Saturday nights. These are community assets and we’d love to see how we could work with partners where all gyms are open on a Saturday for any kid to come in and play so that every block has a safe space.”
To those in the South Bronx, who are interested in joining the program, our SNL Site Director has a message for you: “Come out and play! All levels, girls and boys are welcome!… The address is 600 St. Anne's Avenue, Bronx, NY 10455.”
For more information on City in the Community, head over to NYCFC.com/community.