Feature Article - April 2009
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Reaching Out

Recreation in Underserved Communities

By Stacy St. Clair



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Motivation isn't the greatest deterrent to creating recreation opportunities in low-income areas. Money is. Fortunately, many professional sports organizations support and run programs aimed at bringing athletic activities to underserved communities.

Skateboarding

The Tony Hawk Foundation (www.tonyhawkfoundation.org) seeks to foster lasting improvements in society, with an emphasis on supporting and empowering youth. Through special events, grants and technical assistance, the foundation supports recreational programs with a focus on creating public skateboard parks in low-income communities. The foundation says it favors programs that clearly demonstrate that funds received will produce tangible, ongoing and positive results.

Since its inception in 2002, more than $2 million has been awarded to 365 communities in the United States, and more than 200 of those skateparks already have opened. The foundation's technical assistance program helps review grant applications while providing guidance and feedback to those building public skateparks.

Soccer

The Passback Program (www.passback.org), in partnership with Eurosport, and with the support of Major League Soccer players, is an initiative of the U.S. Soccer Foundation to help meet the soccer uniform and equipment needs of all communities, regardless of income, gender or location. Since its inception, the program has grown enormously and thousands of pieces of equipment have been collected and distributed to schools, clubs and youth organizations across the nation. From a small school in Zimbabwe to an after-school program in inner-city New York, Passback gear has found its way to all corners of the globe.

Schools, charitable organizations or community soccer leagues in disadvantaged areas can visit the Passback Bin and make equipment requests. All equipment is sent out on a first-come, first-served basis, so it is important to make requests well before the gear is needed.

Baseball

The Baseball Tomorrow Fund (BTF, http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/community/btf.jsp) is a joint initiative between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association that was established in 1999 through a $10 million commitment by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association. The BTF's mission is to promote and enhance the growth of youth participation in baseball and softball throughout the world by funding programs, fields, coaches training, and the purchase of uniforms and equipment to encourage and maintain youth participation in the game. Grants are designed to be sufficiently flexible to enable applicants to address needs unique to their communities. The funds are intended to finance a new program, expand or improve an existing program, undertake a new collaborative effort, or obtain facilities or equipment. BTF provides grants to nonprofit and tax-exempt organizations in both rural and urban communities. BTF awards an average of 40 grants per year totaling more than $1.5 million annually. The average grant amount is approximately $50,000.

In 2005, BTF expanded its role by spearheading a national initiative to encourage the collection and distribution of used equipment to organizations in need. BTF began the BTF/MLB Equipment Day Initiative in Major League markets. MLB clubs organize a used equipment collection day at the stadium, while BTF awards a grant in the amount of $5,000 in each participating market to a youth baseball or softball organization of the club's choice. In its first three years, the BTF/MLB Equipment Day initiative has served a growing number of organizations in Major League markets. On average, the initiative collects almost 10,000 pieces of equipment and raises over $140,000 for organizations in need annually.

Also in 2005, BTF formed its first corporate partnership with a lighting company. This partnership provides BTF grant recipients with free consultation services and a significant discount on the latest light technology. BTF has since formed partnerships with several companies in order provide further assistance to grant recipients.