In 2000, the Laureus “Sport for Good” Foundation was created to “help less fortunate people enjoy a better life through the power of sport.”
Since its initial project in Kenya, which created disease-free environments for children, Laureus has launched an additional 103 projects worldwide in 34 countries, affecting more than 1.5 million children.
Last year, with a generous $1.3 million donation from Mercedes Benz USA, Laureus launched five new projects in the United States, the “Coach Across America Initiative.” It placed 250 trained coaches among underserved neighborhoods in Miami, Chicago, New York, L.A., and New Orleans to kick-start sport-based youth development projects.
These projects aim to lower child obesity rates and youth violence in these cities.
A year after the initiation of the project, Laureus USA and tennis legend Monica Seles were back in the Miami neighborhood of Overtown to check on the progress of the project. So far, the 24 coaches placed in the Miami area have worked with more than 4,000 children, and Seles was eager to meet some of them.
“I started tennis, a very Ã¢â‚¬ËœrichÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ sport, in a very humble way,” she said. “My journey began in a parking lot, where my dad would tie a piece of string between two cars to serve as a net… Tennis has given me everything in my life, and I hope other sports can help these kids as much as it did for me.”
The Laureus event was held at the “Touching Miami with Love” (TML) facility, filled with bustling kids, volunteers and teachers. The facility has offered tutoring and afterschool programs for children as well as assistance to Overtown residents since 1995.
Angel Pittman and her husband, Jason Pittman, the executive director of TML, briefed the press about the program.
“We want to fill in the gaps for our community by helping kids and their parents,” Angel Pittman said. “We are an afterschool program during the school year, but during extended vacation days from school, we are a full 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. program so parents donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to take time off from work. Many of these kids come from families where relatives have died from gang violence… It is really quite saddening. We feel as if it is our duty to help these kids grow up.”
One of the Coach Across America coaches, Isaac, is a Ã¢â‚¬Å“graduateÃ¢â‚¬Â of the TML program who had two of his older brothers shot by gangs in drive-by shootings. Determined not to follow in his brothersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ footsteps, Isaac graduated high school and is attending Miami Dade College while working part-time as a coach.
Seles was shocked when she heard the level of violence and crime that the children at TML were exposed to. “ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s incredible. If I saw these children walking on the side of the street, I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be able to tell what they have been through,” she said.
The TML children performed several dances during the event to pop music. Then several coaches spoke about the program and the progress made with the children.
“Sports are so important to a childÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s growth. It teaches them leadership, determination and teamwork,” Isaac said. “Since the beginning of this program, my kids have told me how much they look forward to sports class every week.”