Soccer For Success provides local children education in the sport, and in healthy life choices

A free youth soccer program is again up and kicking in Western New York, providing children in underserved neighborhoods a chance to learn the world’s most popular sport, while also encouraging good school work and inspiring healthy lifestyle choices. Soccer For Success even served as a means to help some of Buffalo’s New Americans to settle in their new home.

The program was created by the US Soccer Foundation and brought to Western New York ten years ago.

“We reached out to the Ralph Wilson Jr. Foundation back in 2012, when we found this great program that had a lot of legs to it, ”said Carrie Meyer, executive director of the Independent Health Foundation, which sponsors the program locally. “We saw that it was a comprehensive program, that there were already mechanisms built in place, that there was a curriculum to follow. So instead of reinventing the wheel, we’re trying to research what good programs are out there that are making the impact, and then use them as a guide, as a template. It’s something that we felt strongly about bringing here in Buffalo, and we’re coming up on our 10th year, and we’re very excited about that. ”

In addition to learning soccer skills, participants are encouraged to succeed in school, and are advised on healthy lifestyle choices, including good nutrition. Meyer explains the program provides participating families with information and resources, including access to healthier foods.

“So if they need fresh produce, we will help them and provide that for them. We bring out farmers markets each time we’re at a site. We also have a lot of resources that will connect them within their community, ”she said. “We are constantly asking the parents for their feedback and we’re continuing to listen to what their needs are, and what services they need. And that’s what we want to bring to the table. ”

The program is open to children in grades Kindergarten through 8 and is held in several venues within the cities of Buffalo, Lackawanna, and Niagara Falls. One of the sessions, at Victory Park in Lackawanna, is an all-girls program.

Over the years the program’s participants have included New Americans – immigrants and refugees – who settled in Western New York. Glorie Ndagano is one of them. He was born in Congo but raised in a refugee camp in Rwanda before coming to the US with his family at the age of 11. He was enrolled in Buffalo Public School 6, the Elementary School of Technology, along with numerous classmates who came from around the world.

“Once you place a soccer ball on the floor, every kid wants to know each other right away, like oh, you can be my team, you can be my team. And especially like, when you stop playing, then everybody’s just happy the next day, ”he said.

Michael Mroziak

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WBFO News

Glorie Ndagano, who graduates from Canisius College in May 2022, has participated in the Soccer For Success program both as a young player and later as an instructor.

Soccer For Success came to his school when he was in 7th Grade. Ndagano recalls the excitement he and his classmates had over the ability to play organized soccer, and wear matching shirts.

“It was something that I was looking forward to. I wanted to wear a jersey, because we’d never wear a jersey, everything we were wearing was just pinnies, “he said. “And even in the gym, when the gym teacher’s coaching soccer, he didn’t really know what he was doing. So, basically, Soccer For Success, we have people who have pretty good knowledge of soccer. ”

“We have almost 100 coaches that we work with and train. We want to make sure we have the right people, who have the right skill sets at the table, ”Meyer said. “Because children, especially in under-resourced neighborhoods and communities, they don’t have the opportunity to take part in fun and healthy activities such as this because it’s too costly. So they have all these barriers. I mean, it might be a financial burden, or it could be a transportation issue, or just access because it’s not in their community or in their neighborhood. ”

Ndagano will graduate this spring from Canisius College. He played three seasons with the Golden Griffins’ men’s soccer team, and was named to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s All-Academic Team. He has given back to Soccer For Success as an instructor. He believes his experience as a former young participant and his background as a childhood refuge helps him connect with the kids now being served.

“I have the experience of working with kids, because I do help kids out at this after-school program. We do homework and stuff. So I really get along with kids. I do a private training for some parents and their kids, ”he said. “It’s so important that I can share with them how important education is. Because a lot of kids really don’t find that many people that try to help them stay focused. ”

The current 12-week session began in late April and continues through late June. As of late April, the spring sessions were filled but names were being accepted for a waiting list. There will also be a 12-week session beginning in July and runs through September.

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