The Philadelphia Union launched a foundation to help the city of Chester youth by incorporating life skills with the game of soccer.
Just over two years ago, the Philadelphia Union opened play in Major League Soccer as the league’s 16th team. As season three for the franchise has just begun, a new launch has come to fruition: the Philadelphia Union Foundation. The Foundation, a registered 501c3, will target inner city youth, particularly in the city of Chester, where PPL (Pennsylvania Power & Light) Park is located.
The foundation mission is to provide opportunities for children through the power of relationships to offer transformational change in the areas of education, community, health and recreation.
“When the Philadelphia Union came to Chester, we put a soccer team on the field,” said Rick Jacobs, foundation executive director. “They attract fans from all over the state, the country and quite frankly in a short time, the world. What we’re looking to do now is take that inclusiveness and wrap ourselves around the city of Chester. This is the work that we’re charged with and challenged with.”
The foundation will work in conjunction with a number of organizations including, the U.S. Soccer Foundation, MLS W.O.R.K.S., Crozer-Keystone Health System, Widener University, and Chester City United, the city’s only club soccer team, which the Union helped launch along with several youth organizations in the Chester area.
Some of the future planned projects of the foundation include a playground build in Chester, health and wellness initiatives, soccer development programs and a series of fundraising events, including the second annual River Cup charity match between Union staff and the Sons of Ben.
The Foundation also lists its building blocks, which include the Philadelphia Union Foundation Giving Our Athletes Life Skills component that provides after-school life skills programming, the provision of safe fields for children to play soccer and the promotion of good health through proper nutrition and the physical development of soccer as a safe and fun after-school activity.
“We’re not talking about these kids becoming professional players, we’re talking about these kids changing a community on their own and changing their lives,” said Nick Sakiewicz, foundation founder and CEO & operating partner of the Philadelphia Union. “This is a matter of the heart for me. This is not about anything other than changing the city and changing the kids that are growing up in it; it’s the right thing to do.
“We have a community that is awesome. If we can just give the kids here some more opportunity, they are going to blossom into an incredible work force, people, husbands, wives, workers, employees, teachers, doctors. That’s something I want to see before I leave this earth.”
In 2011, over 50 percent of children in Chester under the age of 18 live below the poverty line, more than three times the Pennsylvania average. The high school dropout rate in the Chester Upland School District is 14.8 percent, over eight times the state average, according to a recent study.
The problems in Chester are significant, but Foundation chairman Mike Curry — a principal at The Vanguard Group who has served as chairman of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Board of Governors — believes solutions are ahead.
“When you look at Chester, I want you to look at me,” Curry said. “I want you to look at a person who could’ve easily gone down the wrong path. The difference for me was parents who cared about me, but most importantly I found sports, I found soccer. I found the passion, commitment and dedication.
“I want to be a part of this because I wouldn’t be standing here if it weren’t for programs like the ones we hope to build with the Philadelphia Union Foundation. We want to give people a chance to be the best that they can be. And the potential is indeed there.”
Philadelphia Union player Danny Califf is just one of the players who will be working with the foundation. He believes the foundation will help inspire kids off the field.
“I’m really excited to be a part of this,” he said. “Soccer has allowed me to travel, learn about different cultures, and different people. It’s given me and my family so much. Now that I’m in a place like Philadelphia and get to play for the Union, it’s a platform. It’s a platform that I feel has enabled me and enabled us to reach out and help people, and help kids in this community, in Philadelphia and in Chester.
“I’m just so stoked to be here and use this platform to do something that’s bigger than me and bigger than us. At the end of the day it’s not about how much money you have in the bank, it’s about the lives you affect. Hopefully we can lift some kids up and lift some people up that aren’t as fortunate as we are.”