Andrew So Using Soccer For Social Change in the South Bronx
New York Youth Soccer News: The slogan of UEFA Champions League finalist Barcelona FC is “Més que un club” or “More than a club.” South Bronx United uses the same ideal to improve the lives of its players and their families in the poorest Congressional district in the United States.
Andrew So founded the non-profit organization in 2009 along with his wife Stephanie to build leaders and scholars through soccer and now serves as its Executive Director.
“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.”
The seven boys travel teams of South Bronx United play in the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League (CJSL) while the three girls travel teams look to join the CJSL if the league resurrects its girls program. Over 800 kids from the South Bronx are registered in the club and they play on Randalls Island plus at Macombs Dam Park (the former site of Yankee Stadium), Mott Haven High School and South Bronx High School.
Along with Downtown United, another CJSL club, South Bronx United co-hosts the City Showcase Tournament every spring on Randalls Island which features teams from throughout the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA).
“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 $80 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 is low, because parents are very stretched by work and children and, for many, just making sure they can provide a roof and food. Some youth we work with do not even have any parents here to support them.”
“Transportation is a big issue. If we cannot reach a game by public transportation, we rent vehicles to get there, which is costly, and requires a significant commitment of coaches, volunteers and staff. Parents either do not drive or are unable to be at games.”
Andrew coached two teams, then cut it to one squad last year and is not coaching in 2015 to concentrate on fundraising. He also served as a CJSL Trustee but not this year, also due to time constraints.
South Bronx United programs include academic enrichment, college prep, tutoring, mentoring, leadership development, immigration legal services and other social services. Through the SBU Academy, the organization provides a pathway from middle school to high school to college for the kids of the South Bronx. It’s working as 98% of SBU Academy players since 2012 have graduated high school compared to 56% of public school students in the South Bronx. Additionally, 97% of SBU Academy players had attendance rates over 90% and all were promoted to the next grade.
With over 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) stretches from Montauk Point, Long Island to the Canadian border. Members are affiliated with 11 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. All levels of soccer are offered––from intramural, travel team and premier players as well as Special Children. No child who wants to play soccer is turned away. ENYYSA is a proud member of the United States Soccer Federation and United States Youth Soccer Association. For more information, please log on to http://www.enysoccer.com/, which receives nearly 300,000 hits annually from the growing soccer community.