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Urban Initiatives is a nonprofit organization that runs a health and education soccer program, called the Work to Play Program, in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). By actively engaging participants in our extracurricular activities at a young age, Urban Initiatives empowers youth to live a healthy lifestyle, value education, and enhance their personal and social development. Urban Initiatives takes a collaborative, whole child approach to development in order to provide children with the opportunity to reach their full potential.
In 2003, Urban Initiatives founders, James Dower and Daniel Isherwood, began their careers as teachers for the CPS. While teaching at Byrd Academy in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood, they witnessed firsthand the hurdles that at-risk children must overcome in order to reach their full potential - specifically education underachievement and poor health conditions. As sports enthusiasts and professional soccer coaches, they recognized the power of sports programming to address youth issues. Thus, they organized a before and after school soccer program with donated equipment and nutritious snacks that were purchased out-of-pocket.
Students immediately embraced the opportunity to play in a safe and structured environment as well as to be a part of a team. They also worked hard in the classroom in order to meet their coaches’ high academic expectations because their participation on the soccer field was contingent on their classroom performance and behavior. What began as a grassroots program comprised of two coaches, one school and 12 students has since expanded to serve over 600 students per season in 20 schools throughout Chicago.