by Grace Feinman-Riordan
This summer during my break from studies at NYU, I was lucky enough to be able to come teach at South Bronx United. Having played and loved sports since I was in high school, I was excited to combine sports with academia. I’m not a soccer player, but I watch enough games and am well-informed enough about the sport to keep up with the kids. What’s more, this program was important to me because it especially caters to kids like my brother, who are really passionate about soccer but could be doing better in school.
From the first day, I knew I had made the right decision. It was immediately clear from the way the kids interacted with each other that they were very close, that they had known each other for a long time. Seeing the kids so comfortable with each other somehow made me more comfortable, and before long I felt like I was part of the group, that my role as a mentor made sense, which was a great feeling, especially right off the bat.
I think what makes the program really effective and special is the way that it incorporates both sports, which the kids already love, into academics and inextricably links the two. It was also very powerful to see the kids respond the way they did to a positive adult influence in their lives. It didn’t take much, just small kindnesses and respect, but you could tell that it mattered to them. It made me remember having camp counselors when I went to day camp as a child — I always thought they were the coolest, and it felt good to be able to give that back. That might be the most influential and important part of this program — the ability to give kids that positive adult influence.