Heart of the City strives to level the playing field for over 600 youth in underserved communities in Lake County. Using soccer as the vehicle, our programs are designed to provide a developmental pathway for youth to build social-emotional and leadership skills, access academic support, and earn stackable credentials for postsecondary education and employment success. See our Program Continuum Chart.
Founded by community members in 2014, Heart of the City was formed to address the lack of access to quality youth development soccer programs for families in Waukegan, IL and surrounding communities. The charitable organization coupled its existing recreation program with a competitive travel and college preparatory program in 2018.
In 2019, Heart of the City directors recognized a need to expand our college and career-readiness programming even further, due to low graduation rates and limited resources in our community, resulting in youth being significantly underprepared for life after high school.
Recognizing that a four-year college experience is not for everyone, in 2020 we are also diversifying our post-secondary readiness programming in order to expose youth to other viable post-secondary pathways, including trade schools and apprenticeships, the U.S. Armed Forces, and the U.S. Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. We are amplifying our social support services to connect youth and families to the resources they need, including mental health, crisis support, food, housing and more.
Families in Lake County face several socioeconomic barriers to enrolling youth in quality sports programs. This is significant because research shows that youth who are physically active are 1/10 as likely to be obese, achieve up to 40% higher test scores, are 15% more likely to go to college, and are significantly less likely to turn to drug and alcohol use (Aspen Institute).
Cost is the biggest deterrent for youth sports participation in Lake County, due to the high percentage of families living in poverty. Ensuring youth are graduating high school and pursuing a viable post-secondary option (college, technical school/trades, Armed Forces), can greatly alter the economic development and cycle of poverty in our community, but nearly a third of students drop out before high school graduation.
Youth in our community are in need of a positive, healthy outlet that will provide the structure, support system and educational opportunities that will enable them to create a brighter future for themselves. To meet this need, Heart of the City leverages soccer to help youth become competitive on the field, successful in the classroom, and productive in their communities, while also engaging families and helping them build a strong foundation for their children’s future.