Youth in Northeast Kansas City have a renewed sense of pride in their community, after hundreds of FBI employees, Citizens' Academy Alumni, and community volunteers gathered to improve their local soccer field in an effort to strengthen ties between local residents and federal, state and local law enforcement. More than 600 players use the field through the Northeast Soccer League, which was formed by two fathers who were looking to keep their sons out of gangs. But despite the league's popularity, the field was overgrown and littered with trash and graffiti.
The revitalization project marked the start of the FBI’s Community Outreach In-Service, a joint conference between the FBI’s community outreach specialists and the FBI Citizens’ Academy Alumni Association (FBICAAA). In addition to clearing brush from the area and planting trees, volunteers also installed benches and bleachers and lined the fields. Local leaders turned out to celebrate the field’s dedication, which was marked by a soccer scrimmage between two local teams.
"Excitement is building among residents in the Northeast, as they will soon have a sports facility where the shared language of soccer can be spoken, and one of which they can be proud," Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser wrote in a proclamation honoring the FBI's National Citizens' Academy Alumni Association. "I comment them for their dedication and hard work, which will fundamentally impact the lives of youth throughout Kansas City."
Local players, such as 14-year-old Victor Muniz, were on hand to help clear brush and pick up trash. “I'm pretty excited this is getting fixed up," said Muniz. "It's my home. I grew up here."
Before the FBI got involved in the project, Muniz said his view of the FBI involved agents breaking down doors and arresting people. Now, he says he sees Bureau in a new light. "They came to help us," he said. "I want to say thank you to the FBI."
Players from Kansas City’s major league soccer team—the Kansas City Wizards—also hosted a soccer clinic for local athletes.
“For us, as Northeast Kansas City neighbors, being part of this project is an historic step in our ongoing effort to integrate culturally this underserved, impoverished area of the city,” said Northeast Soccer League coordinator Alejandro Cabero. “We know that in a normal day in Northeast, our children are exposed to no less than 10 risk factors that they encounter just on the way between home and school—graffiti, prostitution, drugs, gangs, bad examples, lack of options, poor nutritional habits. But we also know how much our youth are capable of offering this country, if given the opportunity to grow as leaders.”
Val Lund knows all too well the risk factors children in Northeast are exposed to—she runs an after-school and summer program at Kansas City's Don Bosco Center.
"This is a transformation for the area," she said of the project. "Before today, it was something my kids couldn't even have dreamed of. To see it become a reality is a big, big thing for them...they're going to have something to be proud of."
In an effort to secure funding and supplies for the program, the FBI Citizens’ Academy Alumni Association partnered with Kansas City Parks and Recreation, the Don Bosco Centers, Kansas City Power and Light, the Kansas City Wizards, A.L. Huber General Contractor and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
The Kansas City Citizens’ Academy Alumni chapter plans to keep the project moving forward—and next year, will work to install sprinklers, artificial turf, drinking fountains, and bleacher pads at the park.
Thirteen-year-old Luis Galindo says he is excited about the renovations at the local park, and sees soccer as his future. The eighth grader hopes to get a college soccer scholarship and study civil engineering. If he succeeds, he says he will be the first person in his family to earn his degree. "I want to stay in school and try to succeed," he said. "You don't have to go down the path of drugs and gangs and all of those bad things."
FBI Community Relations Unit Chief Brett Hovington said he was pleased the project effectively united a community and left a lasting reminder of the FBI's commitment to keeping neighborhoods safe. “For us, this project represents an opportunity to change lives and open doors for local youth,” said Hovington. “At its core, this project underscores the values we work to implement each day in our own community outreach programs.”