South Bronx United held its second annual benefit and silent auction last week at Hudson Terrace in Manhattan. Former New York Cosmos star and current voice of the New York Red Bulls Shep Messing was the emcee. The Bronx native told a very funny, only in New York story about an act of kindness he shared with a Bronx nursing home resident back during his playing days.
Andrew So, executive director and co-founder of South Bronx United, took the stage to give his annual assessment of the charitable organization’s work. It was a staggering summation, raising the bar for organizations that seek to use soccer as a means of inspiring and empowering youth.
South Bronx United served nearly 600 boys and girls last year (595 to be exact), ages 4-19. To do this, they recruited and helped train 125 volunteers working on the field, in the classrooms, and behind the scenes. And they delivered a total of 48 weeks of programming throughout the year.
Beyond the Field
Most of us are familiar with the competitive travel teams fielded by South Bronx United. And So proudly noted that they now have two girls travels teams, the first such teams for girls in the South Bronx. In fact, girls now make up 30 percent of the kids in the program.
But what really struck me was the work that is being done off the pitch, which is where I think a lot of youth soccer for social change programs fall short. I knew about South Bronx United’s work on character development and leadership. I was also familiar with their health and nutrition after-school program, which is generously supported by the US Soccer Foundation. But it was the work being done on the academic front that impressed me the most, going far beyond what one might expect.
South Bronx United provided 513 hours of tutoring to its youth soccer players during the school year. For high school juniors, they offered a six-week SAT prep course. And for seniors, they awarded three one-time college scholarships.
In addition, the organization distributed 500 free books as part of its Literacy Day. And they ran a summer program, Summer Soccer Scholars, that provided a full-day of structured activities – both athletic and academic in nature – for 71 kids. Interestingly, they used a dozen interns as part of this program, helping develop the next generation of coaches, teachers, and social activists in the process.
Also worth noting is the advocacy work that South Bronx United does on behalf of these kids. It’s above and beyond what you would expect from even the most charitable youth soccer development program. Fifty-three percent of the kids in the program were born outside the United States, and 90 percent of them were born to parents who came from abroad as well. So South Bronx United has begun providing assistance to help these kids and their families in navigating immigration challenges and taking advantage of legislation like the Dream Act.
One such kid, Kebba Sanneh, bravely stepped up to tell his story at the benefit. Born in Gambia, the South Bronx United alum was a testament to the power of these programs, even earning one of the coveted college scholarships. Now a 20 year-old college student, Sanneh gave a moving account of how South Bronx United changed his life: giving him a sense of belonging, providing a source of fun and recreation, keeping him off the streets, helping with his education, and putting him on the path to a college degree.
The Challenge Continues
Success stories like Sanneh’s are not just a testament to the work being done by South Bronx United, but they are also a reminder of how important that work is, and how great the need for it is in communities like the South Bronx. When people talk about underprivileged kids in impoverished communities, those donor-friendly words we use to be polite and politically correct, the South Bronx really sets the standard here in the United States.
The community is rife with poverty and crime. The schools are among the worst in the city, with only 50 percent of the students managing to graduate high school. Kids often must choose between joining a gang or becoming the victim of one. And those who are fortunate to have enough to eat tend to end up obese and at risk for diabetes because the most affordable and accessible food is often the least healthy.
But South Bronx United is really making a positive impact, changing the lives of the kids who participate in their programs. Ninety percent of those who participate in these programs return the following year. Every single one of the high school seniors in South Bronx United’s youth development program earned their diploma last year. And, of their graduates from the last two years, 92 percent are now in college.
How You Can Help
The benefit ended with a silent auction, sending journalists scrambling for the door. In total, the event raised $44,000 for South Bronx United. But the non-profit could still use your support, ideally through a donation but also by volunteering your time and services. It’s a very well-conceived and well-run program that’s making a significant impact on the lives of those who need it most.
Just click your mouse here to have a look at the ways in which you can support the wonderful work being done by this organization. And if my words above have yet to convince you, take a look at the video below.