Opening Doors for At-Risk Youth in New York City
The times when teens or at-risk youths are most likely to get involved with crime is on the weekends. These soccer programs therefore run every Friday and Saturday evenings, turning on lights in gyms and soccer fields at times they are ordinarily closed. Hence their name: “Saturday Night Lights.”
Saturday Night Lights is a crime prevention initiative with two program sites in East Harlem, targeting individuals from ages 11 to 18 years old. They are bringing their mission to Global Goals World Cup with a group of 15 to 17-year-old girls who have embraced the power of soccer to create opportunity in their lives.
At-risk youth in major cities are a crucial target to decrease future crime rates in the United States. Because many of these adolescents don’t have an alternative route, they often resort to illegal activity, continuing the cycle of misconduct. Programs like Saturday Night Lights are tackling these issues in New York City by using soccer as a tool to keep the kids off the streets.
“This program has become a safe haven for these girls. Not only metaphorically safe, but also physically safe, I think soccer has really given them an alternative way to spend their time.”
Lilli Barrett-O’Keefe, youth advocate and social worker for Saturday Night Lights.
About the Program
Apart from the weekend activities the program also hosts supplementary activities during the weekdays to support social and emotional development. These include workshops as well as individual and group meetings. With more than two-hundred participating boys and girls, Saturday Night Lights strives to create an inclusive community across the board, and they receive incredible support from its city surroundings.
City in the Community (CITC), the charity proudly supported by New York City Football Club, runs the Saturday Night Lights which is funded by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.
“It is really unique for New York City to have such a robust support system for sport-based programs,” Barrett-O’Keefe says “They not only donate money to get this program up and running but they’re deeply embedded in making sure that the youth across all boroughs are staying out of trouble.”
WHY GOAL #10?
GOAL #10, Reduced Inequality, encompasses Saturday Night Lights’ mission to improve the lives of marginalized groups in New York City. Over 18 percent of their girls identify as LGBTQI, over 95% coming from immigrant populations and a large number residing in NYCHA housing. Whether it’s social or economic equalities relating to documentation, immigration status or sexual orientation, Saturday Night Lights strives to equal access to the sport for everyone.
“There’s so much competition in New York City,” Barrett-O’Keefe explains. "The game is often diluted with pay-to-play programs and a lack of space. The kids that could really use the structure of an organized sport are the kids that are being denied access to the game.”
Barrett-O’Keefe believes that Global Goals World Cup is an amazing opportunity for these young girls to be involved in a bigger mission.
“On a small scale, we do this work each and every day in Harlem. But a lot of them don’t see that it fits into a bigger narrative of soccer for development,”
These girls are already a part of this global movement. However, when it becomes visible and tangible, soccer as a tool to create social justice becomes so much more powerful.