LAWNDALE — Tariah Fields started playing soccer as part of Urban Initiatives’ Work to Play program at Lawndale Community Academy two years ago.
When Tariah stepped on the field, she instantly fell in love with the sport.
“She had never played soccer before, but when she started she really loved it,” said her mother, Sheerell Fields.
On Saturday, 9-year-old Tariah was among nearly 20 Lawndale Community Academy students who were joined by more than 25 adult volunteers and Urban Initiatives staff for the 1st Annual Lawndale Field Day fundraiser. During the event, students and volunteers paired up in teams for an assortment of activities including bridge ball, water balloon toss, egg carry and sack races.
“The day is meant to get people from the community together and motivate kids to do well academically using sports as a platform,” said David Grass, longtime Urban Initiatives supporter and coordinator of Saturday’s event.
Proceeds from Saturday’s fundraiser will fund Lawndale Community Academy’s Work-t- Play program, which is in 31 other schools in Chicago, Grass said.
The program provides children from kindergarten through fourth grade the opportunity to be a part of a soccer team at their school. Students practice twice a week, and play a game every Friday throughout the school year. Participation on the team depends on a weekly behavioral and academic evaluation, Grass said.
“I remember growing up, and all the lessons, values and social bonds I created through playing sports,” Grass said. “Sports do so much to teach kids about teamwork, discipline and motivates them to succeed in other aspects of their life.
“The aim to keep kids out of trouble using sports as a platform,” Grass said. “The key thing is about making a difference in underserved communities by motivating through sports.”
Volunteer Lindsay Hern, 34, was happy to spend her Saturday at Lawndale Community Academy’s playing sports with the children. “This is unbelievable cause,” Hern said. “This program is great and effective in changing these kids lives.”
The program was first founded in 2003, when Jim Dower, executive director and co-founder of Urban Initiatives, was substituting at Cabrini Green's Byrd Community Academy. He started playing soccer with 12 students after school, and after three weeks, the group had grown to 30 students interested in learning the sport.
“With so many things going on in our streets, this program uses fun to problem solve,” Dower said. “The program intentionally is designed for positive social, emotional learning through team work and physical activity,” Dower said. “These kids just need an opportunity and space to grow these skills.”
Tracey Singleton, 45, mother of a Lawndale student, was thankful for the program.
“It gives the children something to do, and the coaches are just great,” Singleton said.
Like Singleton, Fields has grown fond of Urban Initiatives efforts to bring sports to underserved communities.
“It's nice and it's such a positive program to have in our community, especially with all the violence going on,” Fields said. “It gives the kids something positive to do, instead of being on the street or staying home and watching the television. This programs gets them out learning how to play a sport, and keeps them active."
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