Eastern NY Honors South Bronx United as Our Club of the Month for February
New York Soccer News: Andrew So is doing amazing things in the USA’s poorest Congressional District
Another February and another award for South Bronx United. This is a youth soccer club in New York City that is recognized for building leaders and scholars … and harnessing the passion for soccer to unite diversity.
On February 17, 2020, the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League (CJSL) club received the prestigious Laureus Sport for Good Award in Berlin. South Bronx United was recognized by the Laureus World Sports Academy for their transformational work in supporting young people, and particularly immigrant and first-generation youth, living in the United States’ poorest Congressional District.
In Berlin to accept the award from actor Hugh Grant and Laureus Academy Chairman Sean Fitzpatrick were South Bronx United Executive Director Andrew So, and two inspirational participants who have benefited from the transformational work of the program.
Mohamed Konate was born in the Ivory Coast to parents who had fled Guinea, and Maria Martinez, who emigrated from Mexico to the United States with her mother in search of a better life and better opportunities.
In February 2021, the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA) is honoring South Bronx United as our Club of the Month. No big acceptance speeches needed this time partly because we are not allowed to have large gatherings yet.
“Amazing job by Andrew So who not only develops soccer players but also young men and women who graduate club ball and move on to college with athletic and academic honors,” commented CJSL Director Dimitrie Draguca. “This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of Andrew and his staff.”
Andrew was recently honored by US Youth Soccer’s East Region as the Administrator of the Year. He founded the non-profit South Bronx United in 2009, along with his wife Stephanie, to build leaders and scholars through soccer.
“I started an afterschool soccer group at the school in the South Bronx where I taught. Through this experience, I realized two things,” Andrew explained. “One was students, many of whom had no prior interest in soccer, needed and longed for an out-of-school program where they could get off the streets, be with their peers and be supported in a safe environment. The second item was youth, primarily from immigrant families who grow up within a soccer culture, could greatly benefit from the chance to compete. Those skills and passion for soccer could provide opportunities in school, college and careers while also developing character and leadership.”
South Bronx United organizes community programs at Macombs Dam Park, Mullaly Park and Patterson Park in the South Bronx in addition to several elementary schools. Their travel teams play most of their home games on Randalls Island or the Mott Haven Educational Campus. 1,300 players are registered with South Bronx United, making it the CJSL’s largest club.
“The youth soccer club is one component of our programs and defines our organization as the primary way we reach and stay connected to youth who are otherwise underserved and often would not connect with other community-based youth organizations and youth service agencies,” Andrew stated. ”We are a youth development organization that merges the passion that South Bronx and immigrant youth have for soccer with off-the-field programs and services to better our community.”
Fields and funding are particular challenges and South Bronx United must raise over 95% of its budget to offer programs. The cost to families to participate is no more than $100 per child annually and it’s waived for many families who face immense financial hardship.
“Working with South Bronx and immigrant families is amazing because of all the unique characteristics, backgrounds and cultures everyone brings,” Andrew said. ”It is very challenging too. Parental involvement in the South Bronx area of New York City is low, mainly because parents are very stretched by work and economic restraints.”
For many parents, just making sure they can provide a roof and food is the priority.
“Some youth we work with do not even have any parents here to support them,” added Andrew.
South Bronx United programs include academic enrichment and tutoring, mentoring, leadership development, immigration legal services plus other individual and family services.
Through the SBU Academy, the organization provides a pathway from middle school to high school to college to careers. It’s working as 100% of SBU Academy players since 2012 have graduated high school, compared to 56% of public school students in the South Bronx. 94% of program graduates have gone on to college. Graduates of the SBU Academy Class of 2020 are attending colleges such as Binghamton University, Connecticut College, Kenyon College, Fordham University, Skidmore College and Stony Brook University.
During the pandemic, as the South Bronx emerged early on as one of the hardest hit communities, the club undertook a number of initiatives to support its families while adjusting programming to provide remote academic support and soccer sessions and eventually return in September with a hybrid of remote and in-person academic and college prep programs.
Initiatives included distributing more than 30 laptops to middle school, high school and college-enrolled alumni who needed them; live-streaming several sets of online workshops, in Spanish and English, to provide information on government benefits, food assistance and community resources; providing students daily with free take home meals; and dispersing $50,000 in debit cards through the New York Community Trust’s Emergency Cash Assistance Program (ECAP) to families in desperate need but otherwise ineligible for government assistance.
Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association: With 100,000 youth soccer players–both boys and girls–and more than 25,000 volunteers, the non-profit Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA) reaches from Montauk Point, Long Island to the Canadian border.
Members are affiliated with nine leagues throughout the association, which covers the entire state of New York east of Route 81. ENYYSA exists to promote and enhance the game of soccer for children and teenagers between the ages of 5 and 19 years old and to encourage the healthy development of youth players, coaches, referees, and administrators.