“I’m really ecstatic,” Jim Hardy said when asked about the $35,000 grant the Kensington Soccer Club received last week from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. “Just because I’m thinking about the good work that we’re going to be able to do.”
The Kensington Soccer Club was founded by Hardy in 2010 as a way to help Kensington-area kids have more access to “positive opportunities” in the neighborhood. Around that time, Hardy, who is a teacher at Kensington Health Sciences Academy, had two of his students engage in a fistfight outside of school in Fairhill. The result was fatal.
“One of them fell and hit his head on the ground and died,” said Hardy. “The other went to jail.”
It was then when Hardy, who is also KSC’s executive director, realized there needed to be more ways for young children like his students to engage in healthy activities where they could grow and mature as young adults.
“I founded the Kensington Soccer Club to try to make a difference in that regard,” he said. “I wanted to provide more opportunities for our children to be engaged in activities that have a positive impact.”
The DA’s office agreed. The grant was specifically for community-based organizations that supported “violence prevention efforts.” It’s a description that fits KSC to a T. The organization got the largest chunk of the $82,500 in grant money that was given away by the office.
“As an organization we’re really honored to have received the grant,” said KSC’s communications coordinator, Alberto Huichapa. “It’s going to mean a lot in helping us achieve our mission of making soccer more accessible in areas that need a little more help.”
KSC plans to use the money specifically for its Teen Leadership Initiative, a program that offers teens “an opportunity to build job skills and leadership while lifting the whole community.”
The paid internship hires local teens and provides them with professional experience, mostly doing things like administrative work like communications, development, partnerships – and even coaching – which in turn allows them to build up their resume.
“We hire teens within the community and train them to become leaders, coaches, role models for younger children,” said Hardy. “Younger children will benefit from having more caring role models they can look up to.”
In a press release, the district attorney’s office said that KSC, along with three other grant recipients, “help[s] prevent violence in communities across the city by collectively ensuring that our youth are engaged in productive activities, are self-empowered to become leaders for their community, and provide the mentoring and educational supports necessary to help them flourish as they grow into adulthood.”
The three other grant recipients are C.B. Community Schools, The Jarell Christopher Seay Love and Laughter Foundation and Potter’s House Mission.
Hardy said that KSC’s main goal is to make soccer more accessible to children who might not have the resources to play in a different club or league. For that reason, no child is turned away from KSC for an inability to pay. The entire league functions in a “pay-what-you-can” format.
“We try to make soccer accessible and pay-what-you-can is a way to do that,” said Huichapa. “We know that in certain areas of Philadelphia not everyone has that much money.”
Hardy said that most parents with children in the club do end up contributing something financially. However, Hardy said the club earns most of its money from “individual contributions from outside supporters.” Only recently has the club made a push to acquire more funds from grants.
“Especially this year we’ve been more effective with applying for foundation grants,” said Hardy. “That’s something that is really going to be able to help us increase our capacity and reach out to more children more consistently and effectively.”
Hardy said that it’s really important to give children options in order to prevent violence in the community, and that many youths commit violence because they’re feeling some sense of despair.
“We believe that with really strong and effective youth programming we can help children stay on a positive path in life, learn how to resolve contracts and feel a greater connection with people,” said Hardy. “It doesn’t start with the violence. It starts with other issues going on in their lives. With our programs, we’re able to have that effect of helping younger children learn to connect with each other, resolve conflicts and feel a connection with other people in the community. That connection is something children and teens carry with them into the future and carries positive outcomes into the future.”