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Planting the Seeds

During the 2010 season, United Soccer Club (USC) succeeded in getting urban Washington D.C. youth moving through soccer and living healthier lifestyles, while also making a connection to the environment. United Soccer Club is the signature program of United for D.C., the charitable arm of D.C United. The club was born out of a request from parents in the Ward 8 neighborhood of Washington D.C. They noted that while D.C. United’s soccer stadium was just minutes away, their children did not have access to learn or play the sport. Spawned from that request, United Soccer Club began teaching the game of soccer and important life skills to approximately 60 youth in 2007. Since that time the program has expanded to include over 700 youth throughout 12 sites around the city. In 2010, USC added a healthy life styles curriculum to address the growing needs of an increasingly obese community. The curriculum included lessons about healthy living and field trips to deepen students’ understanding of the topics. In the fall of 2010, USC players attended the Common Good City Farm in Ledroit Park, Washington, D.C. The trip enabled youth to make firm connections to the healthy lifestyles curriculum, such as eating more fruits and vegetables and less processed, sugary, and salty foods. At the farm, youth planted spinach seeds and learned what they needed to grow. Their eyes lit up when they saw corn growing on its stalk and learned that the kernels can be dried and then heated to make popcorn. Who doesn’t like popcorn?!? Later, the group popped popcorn, and enjoyed eating it with a little salt. The kids also sampled mint leaves, prompting one young girl to say it tasted like brushing her teeth. Then, perhaps the most exciting activity, the youth actually pulled from the ground, washed, and snacked on carrots. The USC athletes were baffled and elated to learn how carrots grow and what they look like when they are not processed. “You mean I can just plant this in the ground and then eat it later?!? This carrot is so yummy,” one young boy exclaimed. On the other side of the City, the Barry Farm site similarly attended the Lederer Youth Garden. Thanks to an opportunity provided by Wilderness Inquiry, the D.C. Department of Parks & Recreation, and the US Forest Service, the same group of youth later enjoyed an expedition canoeing on the Anacostia River. Youth and coaches alike spent an hour working their muscles paddling the Anacostia and seeing the city from a different angle. All the trash in the river was appalling and the kids commented, “So this is where our trash ends up?!?” One boat started chanting, “Heave! Ho!” to synchronize their paddling. Throughout the trip, youth learned about water quality, pollution, wildlife dependent on the river, conservation, recycling, and proper waste disposal. Through United Soccer Club’s unique and comprehensive programming, over 700 urban youth ages 5-12, spend more than 180 minutes per week learning healthy lifestyles and exercising. Beyond learning leadership and teamwork through playing soccer, the program teaches kids lessons about proper nutrition, hydration, and the importance a proper breakfast, among other healthy life styles practices. The above-mentioned field trips transported youth out of their neighborhoods and exposed them to something completely new. It also showed them another fun way to be active and move to get their recommended 60 minutes of exercise each day. Now, as a result of these trips, the seeds have been planted, the kids are excited to share what nutritious foods they eat each day, hesitant to litter, curious about the environment, and generally excited to be active and healthier.

Planting spinach seeds at Common Good City Farm.

Canoeing the Anacostia River with Urban Wilderness Inquiry.

On the break…