The Chicas Soccer Academy received a $10,000 grant from Nike for the summer program.

COURTESY PHOTO - The program is free to participants and offers the girls a non-competitive way to be physically active.Adelante Mujeres, a nonprofit organization based out of Forest Grove that works to educate and empower Latina women and their families, was a grant recipient of the Nike Community Impact Fund (NCIF) for its Chicas Soccer Academy, it announced Wednesday, April 18.

The soccer academy, which is in its seventh year, provides an opportunity for Latina students to be engaged in non-competitive physical activity and learn about maintaining healthy lifestyles, offering a free 10-week session each year, said Leticia Aguilar, the Chicas Youth Development Program manager.

This year, the soccer academy runs from Thursday, June 21, to Saturday, Aug. 25, at Lincoln Street Elementary School in Hillsboro. Some 120 girls will come together to practice for two hours a week, with an academy-wide tournament at the end of the 10-week program.

After administrators at Adelante saw a trend in young girls wanting to join a sport but finding themselves unable to do so because their families were not financially able, the idea of a soccer academy was developed, Aguilar said.

The academy is more recreational than competitive, Aguilar said. It teaches students the basic skills of the sport, as well as tips to stay physically engaged outside of the academy.

All of the coaches are volunteers from the community, and previous participants have also come back to coach, Aguilar said.

Administrators decided to focus on teaching the girls how to take care of the environment during the academy as well.

"We provide the students with incentives," Aguilar said. "(We are) creating the conscience of 'OK, what can I do at home to take care of the environment?'"

If students carpool to practice, are able to walk to and do so, or bring reusable water bottles, they receive vouchers that can be used to purchase fruits and vegetables at the local farmers markets, all part of encouraging and educating girls on the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, Aguilar said.COURTESY PHOTO - Girls in the academy learn basic soccer skills as well as ways to stay active and healthy in their own time.

Other trends have also led administrators to add more important elements to the academy.

"One of the things we were noticing during soccer academy was parents hanging out there (during practice)," Aguilar said. "So while girls practice, parents are in workshops engaged in learning about something (surrounding) healthy lifestyles."

By engaging parents as well as the students, the program aims for several specific outcomes.

"Participants will have a greater understanding of the health risks prevalent in the Latino community related to diet and lack of exercise," Aguilar said. "Parents will have a greater understanding of how to encourage their daughters' well-being and strengthen their communication and relationships."

The grant from Nike for $10,000 will be used to cover various costs associated with the program, said Evelyn Cantoral, director of development for Adelante Mujeres.

"For a lot of the girls we work with, they are very low-income, and it's not easy for them to get into a camp or an activity to do during the summer," Cantoral said. "We are able to offer it to the girls at no cost because of grants like this one."

As part of the grant, Nike is also providing referees for the tournament, Aguilar said, which means the academy won't have to spend money hiring from the community as they have in the past.

Previously, Nike employees have also donated shoes and soccer cleats to girls in the program, Cantoral said.

"It's all of these things, when we put it all together, (it's what makes) it possible for these girls to have this really wonderful experience," Cantoral said. "It's a wonderful thing for the girls. It's something they look forward to all year long."

Chicas Soccer Academy is one of 21 organizations to have received the Nike grant in the Portland area, including Southwest Washington.

"The Nike Community Impact Fund grant allows us to educate Latina girls on the benefits of sports and a healthy lifestyle as a part of a balanced life," said Cantoral. "The excitement on the girls' faces as they enter the field is evidence of just how much the soccer academy means to them."

By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
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