BUFFALO, N.Y. (June 16, 2015) - Thanks to the efforts of the Independent Health Foundation's Soccer for Success® program, Mayor Byron W. Brown and the City of Buffalo Division of Parks and Recreation, a once abandoned field in South Buffalo has been transformed into a neighborhood-gathering hub for children and parents alike. Durant Park is one of more than 20 sites in the City of Buffalo that currently host Soccer for Success, a free, after-school program offered by the Independent Health Foundation, in collaboration with the Buffalo Soccer Club and the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County.
The Independent Health Foundation and Mayor Brown hosted a special celebration this evening to recognize the first season of Soccer for Success at Durant Park. As part of the festivities, Mayor Brown led a ceremonial first kick and the program’s young participants, who range in age between 5 and 14, scrimmaged against each other.
Established by the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Soccer for Success is a national youth development program that uses soccer, along with nutrition education, as a way to engage kids in their health and reduce childhood obesity. In addition, the program guides youth away from negative influences by providing them with safe places to play during after-school hours and having them work with dedicated coaches and mentors. The U.S. Soccer Foundation partners with about 30 community-based organizations – including the Independent Health Foundation – to operate Soccer for Success sites around the country.
"Soccer for Success exemplifies how sports can play an integral role in a child's development by teaching important life skills," said Michael W. Cropp, M.D., president and CEO, Independent Health, and president, Independent Health Foundation. "The children who participate in the program are not only being taught the importance of engaging in healthy behaviors, but are also taking this message home to their families. Through Soccer for Success, we are able to promote the values of teamwork, discipline and respect, while laying the foundation for a healthier community."
"Parks give children a safe and fun place to play and as we continue to build a city of opportunity for everyone in Buffalo, I'm pleased that Soccer for Success is bringing our youth and their families together at the newly enhanced Durant Park," said Mayor Brown, noting that the city, as part of a $41 million investment in parks citywide since 2006, recently completed $200,000 in capital improvements for a new playground, resurfaced basketball court, landscape grading and park fencing, as well as additional support for soccer field restoration and continued maintenance. "Soccer is one of the world's most popular sports and this partnership between the City of Buffalo and the Independent Health Foundation’s Soccer for Success program is another great example of how strong collaborations result in even stronger neighborhoods with increased and positive park activity."
About a year ago, Soccer for Success representatives reached out to the City of Buffalo for assistance in locating news sites. Under the direction of Mayor Brown, Andrew Rabb, Deputy Commissioner of the Division of Parks and Recreation Department, enthusiastically responded about the field at Durant Park, which was in disrepair due to lack of activity, but had great potential. Since Soccer for Success had yet to set up an outdoor location in South Buffalo, Durant Park seemed like the perfect match for the program.
"Based on the feedback we received from the City's Division of Parks and Recreation, we were very excited about the idea of bringing Soccer for Success to Durant Park. Not only would we have the opportunity to host the program outside, we knew there were many children and families in the surrounding neighborhood who may benefit from the program, too," said Carrie Meyer, executive director, Independent Health Foundation. "I thank Mayor Brown and the City for being a great partner throughout the entire process. We have practiced at Durant Park at least 60 times since we started last year and the Division of Parks and Recreation always makes sure the grass is cut and the field is well maintained."
The Soccer for Success program first kicked off at Durant Park last August. The families that live near Durant Park have embraced the program from day one. Initially, a flyer was mailed to neighboring residents to promote Soccer for Success and recruit participants. When registration day arrived, staff members from the Independent Health Foundation were greeted by a long line of parents eager to enroll their children.
"Everyone around here was really excited to hear about Soccer for Success," said Jennifer Taboni, who enrolled her nine-year-old son in the program. "Even though there are a lot of families in this neighborhood, no one was using the field. Now, the kids have somewhere to go, instead of just sitting in the house playing video games or hanging out in the yard. And because this program is free, many of these kids are getting to do something they might not have been able to do before."
Today, about 70 children take part in Soccer for Success at Durant Park. Practice sessions are held three times a week for 12 weeks during the spring and fall seasons. As part of the program:
- The kids participate in 90-minute sessions, with the goal of them getting at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise.
- Eight coaches serve as mentors who help in the development of each child by stressing the importance of doing well in school and avoiding trouble. They also deliver educational activities that teach the basics of nutrition and the importance of making healthy choices.
- Family members are provided with information on good health and nutrition to aid in reinforcing the healthy habits and lessons their children are taught in the program.
"It's nice to know that my son is surrounded by a good group of kids and is being taught by coaches who really care. He's not playing with the kids who are a bad influence because he would rather be here," added Taboni. "To see him excited about playing soccer and learning about good nutrition makes me very happy. He even asks for healthy snacks before bed now, which is trickling down to my four-year-old daughter. Instead of a bowl of ice cream, I'll peel and slice some apples for them or give them some baby carrots. As a parent, how can you not love that?"
Although it's only been a few short months since Soccer for Success was introduced at Durant Park, Meyer says the neighborhood has already adopted the program as its own.
"The family engagement at this site has been tremendous," said Meyer. "It's great to see so many children running around and having a good time. Plus, the sidelines are always filled with spectators, who walk over to the park from their homes to watch the practices and scrimmages. They really enjoy cheering the kids on. Some parents have even volunteered to help assist our coaches during practices."
"The Soccer for Success program at Durant Park is a terrific example of government, business and the general public working together to produce positive changes and achieve a healthier tomorrow," said Dr. Cropp. "In order to truly transform and improve our own personal health and the entire health of our region, it is imperative that we collaborate as a community and establish wide-ranging partnerships. Better health does not, and cannot, rest on only one entity."
About the Soccer for Success program:
More than 2,000 youngsters from the City of Buffalo have participated in Soccer for Success since the program was first launched in May 2012. Originally hosted at 12 sites, Soccer for Success has since expanded to 23 sites, including Buffalo Public and Charter Schools, community centers and Boys & Girls Clubs.
Under the direction of more than 170 coaches/mentors, the program has been able to produce impressive results. For example, during the 2013-14 Soccer for Success campaign:
- 88 percent of participants categorized as having high health risks improved their aerobic capacity, which is the maximum amount of oxygen that the body can utilize during an exercise session, usually measured during a brief period of high-intensity exercise.
- 84 percent of participants said they made healthier choices when deciding what to eat or drink after participating in the program.
- 83 percent of participants said that they tried harder in school after participating in the program.
- 69 percent of participants categorized at the beginning of the school year as overweight or obese reduced their Body Mass Index (BMI) percentile.
In addition, Buffalo was one of five cities included in a year-long study that examined the health and fitness outcomes of children participating in Soccer for Success compared to children enrolled in non-athletic, non-nutrition based afterschool programming in the same communities. The U.S. Soccer Foundation recently released the results of the extensive evaluation, which found that Soccer for Success indeed has a positive influence on the health of its participants. According to the study, improvements in health and fitness of Soccer for Success children were statistically significantly greater than those of children in non- Soccer for Success programs. Overall, more children enrolled in Soccer for Success decreased their BMI, decreased their waist circumference, and improved their aerobic capacity as compared to non-program children.
As a result of the program's positive outcomes in Buffalo, the Independent Health Foundation was awarded $250,000 through a Social Innovation Fund Sub-Grant from the U.S. Soccer Foundation. The additional funding will allow the Independent Health Foundation to continue offering Soccer for Success through the end of the 2015-2016 school year.
About the Independent Health Foundation:
Established in 1992, the Independent Health Foundation works to improve the health and well-being of Western New York residents through awareness, prevention, education and other programs focused on community health priorities. For more information on the Foundation’s activities, visit www.independenthealth.com/foundation.
About the U.S. Soccer Foundation
Established in 1994, the U.S. Soccer Foundation is the Major Charitable Arm of Soccer in the United States, having invested more than $100 million nationwide. The Foundation supports programs and field building projects that provide underserved youth in urban communities with opportunities that promote positive behavior, healthy lifestyles, self-confidence and positive alternatives to drugs, crime and other at-risk behaviors. The Foundation will serve close to 30,000 participants in the Soccer for Success program with the support of over 30 community-based organizations in more than 30 cities, with at least 7 new locations in 2014. To learn more, visit www.ussoccerfoundation.org.