Heart of the City believes all young people should have access to high-quality, organized soccer programs that inspire them to be competitive on the field, successful in the classroom, and productive in their community.
Founded by community members in 2014, Heart of the City was formed to address the lack of access to quality youth sports programs for families in Lake County, Illinois. The charitable organization coupled its existing recreation league with the nationally-recognized North Central United travel club two years ago. The two programs now exist side-by-side, further increasing access to year-round soccer opportunities and the invaluable life lessons that they provide.
Today HOTC has grown to nearly 800 players. A volunteer-driven organization, parents enjoy many different ways to become actively involved in their children's participation in the sport of soccer. Through the experience and expertise of our volunteers and community partners, Heart of the City is extending its reach beyond the field, helping families build a strong foundation for their children's future.
Soccer is not just a popular sport. It is also a powerful pathway to youth development. Unfortunately, not every family can afford to have their child join a soccer team, but Heart of the City is laying the groundwork for that to change in Lake County. We are focused on increasing access and ensuring families can take advantage of life-changing opportunities on and off the pitch. Over 65% of youth who participate in HOTC programs come from low-income homes.
Because access to soccer is also shaped by gender, our organization is also focusing efforts on increasing the participation rate for girls in both our recreation and travel league programs. We aim to level the playing field, increasing girls' visible, active presence in youth soccer experiences, providing girls with not only the opportunity to develop new skills, but also to learn and to lead, and to expand and deepen social support networks.
Studies show that young people who play organized soccer are more likely than their counterparts to graduate, attend college, and obtain degrees. In addition, young people who participate in soccer often possess a greater capacity for empathy because they learn and grow through moments of success and failure. Players also share a more defined connection to the local community because of the way soccer brings friends, families, and neighborhoods together.
Yet the most vulnerable populations of our community are not empowered to tackle their circumstances. Heart of the City seeks to change this by:
- Recognizing that expenses are the biggest driver in youth soccer participation. Our recreation program is consistently less expensive than other soccer organizations in the area. We also work with parents, particularly those with multiple children, to find ways to reduce registration fees for our travel league to ensure no one needs to sit on their sidelines.
- Placing significant emphasis on preparing young people academically. Homework is always a priority for our teams and must be completed prior to athletic training. Report cards are collected throughout each season from players and reviewed to identify subject difficulties, overall grade point average, and any potential academic attendance o truancy issues.