How Heart of the City teaches kids life skills through soccer

  • Jessie Zarinara signed to play with Southeastern Community College in Iowa on scholarship after being recruited at one of the Heart of the City College ID events.

    Jessie Zarinara signed to play with Southeastern Community College in Iowa on scholarship after being recruited at one of the Heart of the City College ID events. courtesy of Heart of the City

  • Heart of the City in Waukegan provides accessible soccer and educational programs for underserved youth living in Lake County.

    Heart of the City in Waukegan provides accessible soccer and educational programs for underserved youth living in Lake County. courtesy of Heart of the City

 
 
Updated 3/11/2022 9:29 AM

Teamwork. Confidence. Sportsmanship. Communication. These are the building blocks of life kids learn when they play sports.

Heart of the City in Waukegan not only makes sure kids learn soccer skills on the field, they teach life skills off it.

 

The organization offers free clinics, an in-house academy and a travel team. Thanks to scholarships and donations, no one is turned away due to inability to play.

But Heart of the City has bigger goals in mind than just the ones that hit the back of the net. The group also offers mentorship for young athletes, teaching them how to serve the community and making sure kids who want to go to college have the resources to make that happen.

Rena Lee, director of development and marketing at Heart of the City, talks about the organization and its inaugural soccer tournament coming up in May.

Q: What is Heart of the City?

A: We use the passion and energy kids in our communities feel toward playing soccer to emphasize the importance of academics, life skills, and social-emotional learning.

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A Heart of the City Academy boys team huddles up on the field. Heart of the City in Waukegan offers free clinics, a soccer academy and a travel team. Thanks to scholarships and donations, no one is turned away due to inability to pay.
A Heart of the City Academy boys team huddles up on the field. Heart of the City in Waukegan offers free clinics, a soccer academy and a travel team. Thanks to scholarships and donations, no one is turned away due to inability to pay. - courtesy of Heart of the City

As kids enter our recreational or travel soccer program, we incorporate learning opportunities off the field that help guide them through school to graduation and postsecondary options.

Some of those learning opportunities include academic support, school performance tracking, mental health referrals, nutrition guidance, teamwork and leadership skills, volunteering and mentoring opportunities, SAT/ACT prep, financial aid workshops, and visits to colleges and local businesses.

If students are interested in playing soccer in college, we connect them with a college recruitment specialist who can guide them through the process and find scholarship options for them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Q: What are some of your programs?

A: Grassroots after-school clinics are free, introductory soccer programs run at local schools, park districts, and boys and girls clubs.

• The Academy recreational program teaches youth the fundamentals of soccer, focusing on teamwork, communication, and decision making.

• The Elite program is a competitive travel soccer program that incorporates college prep, career readiness, and leadership training.

We serve youth in Lake County, but the majority of our kids live in the Waukegan, North Chicago and Zion areas, where about 1/3 of the students don't graduate high school.

Student athletes with Heart of the City on a college visit to UW-Parkside. The soccer organization helps students who want to attend college with mentoring, FAFSA workshops and SAT/ACT prep.
Student athletes with Heart of the City on a college visit to UW-Parkside. The soccer organization helps students who want to attend college with mentoring, FAFSA workshops and SAT/ACT prep. - courtesy of Heart of the City

Most of our families make less than $40,000 per year, so our program is accessible to all. We subsidize the cost through donations and offer scholarships to families who aren't able to pay. If student athletes want to be in our program, we make it happen.

Many of our students have never thought about their plans after high school, or even if college is possible, so as they transition through our programs, and with the support we provide, student athletes gain confidence and can envision a brighter future for themselves. We have a 100% high school graduation success rate.

Q: How many people per year do you serve?

A: We serve about 500 youth ages 5-19 through all three of our soccer programs, but also incorporate parent and family workshops and resource tables that engage and educate the whole family on community resources and learning opportunities.

Q: Tell us about your inaugural soccer tournament.

A: Our May 1 Spring Into Action Tournament is a one-day recreational soccer tournament open to regional soccer teams in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. It is a fun event but will also be a fundraiser for our programs.

All teams that sign up are guaranteed to play three games and there will be trophies and medals awarded. The tournament will take place at one of the elite soccer venues in northern Illinois, the Waukegan Sports Park.

We have early bird pricing available through March 18. Multiple team discounts and sponsorships are available.

We are looking to partner with community organizations that offer support for youth in a variety of ways and can host resource tables at practices, workshops for families, or host a team to visit offices and businesses.

We also have opportunities for businesses to help underwrite the costs of our programs, like transportation to games and college visits, scholarships for families, and more.

Q: How can our readers help your organization?

A: Our inaugural gala will take place Aug. 13 at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan, and we will be celebrating the successes of our recent high school graduates there. Individuals can purchase tickets to attend on our website.

Organizations and individuals can contact us directly if they would like to become involved or learn more.

Our website address is www.heartofthecitysports.org, email info@heartofthecitysports.org, or call (847) 623-6200.

• • •

Heart of the City soccer tournament

What: Spring Into Action Tournament

When: May 1

Where: Waukegan Sports Park, 3391 W. Beach Road, Waukegan

Details: This is a one-day recreational soccer tournament open to regional soccer teams in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Teams that sign up are guaranteed to play three games.

Cost: Early bird pricing available through March 18

Information: Visit www.heartofthecitysports.org, email info@heartofthecitysports.org, or call (847) 623-6200

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