MEET Jason: A Youth-Empowering, Soccer-Playing Guy
We know soccer isn’t big business in Georgia. Heck, most of us have likely not been to an Atlanta soccer game. But for kids in need, soccer (or futbol as it is known in most parts of the world) can be a big deal. The FEED sat down with Jason Longshore of Soccer in the Streets to find out how this sport is playing an important role in the lives of Atlanta youth.
Tell us a little about Soccer in the Streets:
Soccer in the Streets produces independent young adults by building character through soccer and employment experiences. The organization is over twenty years old, and has served over 125,000 youth across the United States. By combining soccer training with character building and employment activities, the organization is able to engage kids at a very deep level and work with them to transform their lives and their communities.
How did you get started with this organization?
I grew up in Atlanta and played soccer growing up. While I was attending the University of Georgia, I started working for the Atlanta Ruckus pro soccer club. When the team was sold, I got out of the soccer business and moved into music retail. As that industry began to decline, I decided in 2006 that I wanted to follow my passion and get back into soccer. I knew of Soccer in the Streets from my time with the Ruckus because we organized camps from the kids. I started part-time helping with media relations and social media. As the organization grew, I began writing grants and taking on more responsibilities. Now, I’m the Deputy Director and oversee marketing, program evaluation, grants, and event fundraising.
I enjoyed the soccer aspects of it when I started, but it was when I started working the kids directly that I was totally hooked. I’ve worked with a group of Latino teenagers in the College Park/East Point area for over four years now. These guys are like my little brothers now. Being able to see these guys graduate high school and then go on to college or enter the workforce is the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.
What challenges have you faced?
Building a progression in our programs so we don’t lose kids is always the toughest thing. Increasing the level of evaluation of our programs is always a challenge, it’s tough to measure attitudinal change. Fundraising is a constant challenge, especially in the current economy.
Are you collaborating with anyone?
Collaboration is a necessity for organizations such as ours to be successful. We work with schools, recreation centers, and city/county recreation departments for field space for programming and access to participants. The Decatur Family YMCA has been a long term partner that has helped grow programming in the Clarkston community from one day of pick-up soccer to three elementary schools and a teen program based at the Clarkston Community Center.
What impact are you hoping to have on our Atlanta community?
We hope to better prepare out participants to be independent young adults and give them the skills to be successful in their lives and take care of themselves and their families.
Would you like to see this organization/these programs replicated?
For sure! We’d love to expand both in the metro Atlanta area and across the country. There are so many kids who need these skills to succeed and soccer is such a great avenue to reach them.
What kind of help/assistance do you need to keep this going?
Fundraising is always an issue, although we’ve been doing pretty well recently. The economic issues forced us to be more creative and diversify our funding base. Awareness is increasing, but there are people out there who would support our programming if they knew about what we do.
What are some of the biggest problems/issues you see facing Atlanta?
Skilled employees is one of the biggest issues I’ve seen. We hope that through our programming we can produce young adults who are in a better position to be successful in the workplace. Many young adults see a lack of opportunities for them to be successful and we hope to open them up to a greater variety of options to lead a successful life.
What are some of your favorite things and organizations around town?
Being involved in soccer, I work with the Atlanta Silverbacks and specifically their Reserve team. I love watching the big international games around town at the Brewhouse Cafe, Diesel Filling Station, Midcity Cafe and other venues that have worked with us for years. I’m a huge music fan too and love to support Josh Rifkind and his 500 Songs for Kids event at Smith’s Olde Bar each May. Songs for Kids is a great organization!
Where can interested readers find you?