Fresno’s Parks Department keeps doing a superb job, despite being surrounded by political turmoil over green space allocations and long-term funding formulas.
Thursday’s City Council agenda offers an excellent example.
Parks is asking the council for authorization to accept $51,750 grant from the United States Soccer Federation Foundation. The grant contains $39,000 in cash and $12,750 in soccer equipment.
It’s all part of the Foundation’s “Soccer for Success” program. More on the program’s goals in a bit. But what struck me about the program, as outlined in a staff report from Parks Director Parvin Neloms Jr., is its cost-benefit ratio.
To an outsider like me, it sure seems like Soccer for Success when teamed with the Fresno Parks Department delivers a lot of bang for the buck.
Neloms, writing with Parks colleague Chris Bernal, tells the council that the department in the 2017-18 fiscal year received a Foundation grant valued at $121,900. Most of the grant was cash. The purpose: Implement the “evidence-based” Soccer for Success program in Fresno.
“The program,” Neloms says, “is offered free of charge to participants and promotes making healthy lifestyle choices through mentorship, education and physical activity.” Soccer for Success, Neloms adds, “is taught by trained coach-mentors through a holistic approach that encourages family engagement and support.”
In that 2017-18 fiscal year, Parks Department coach-mentors trained 946 SPARK students (SPARK stands for the Sports Play and Active Recreation for Kids afterschool program); 255 neighborhood park youth; and 141 students enrolled in the Weekend Recreation & Fitness Program.
That training occurred in two 24-week soccer seasons.
Are there any metrics (i.e. evidence) in the Neloms report to shine a light on how many “healthy lifestyle choices” were made due to the Success for Soccer program? Not that I could find.
But I’m not sure that is a fair or necessary yardstick. My wife and I raised two daughters and a son to productive adulthood. We viewed their participation in youth sports as a key component in their incremental journey to maturity (one daughter enjoyed sports more than the other; kids aren’t all the same!). We couldn’t quantify our view. We just have the conviction from experience that competition, sportsmanship, coaches-mentors and teammates teach a lot about life.
Soccer for Success, according to the staff report numbers, reached more than 1,300 Fresno kids (6 to 15 years of age) at an average cost of less than $100 per kid. And we’re not talking for a weekend or two. We’re talking about a 24-week season. That’s got to be a worthwhile return on investment.
If the council on Thursday gives the OK, Neloms says in the report, Parks will accept the $51,750 Foundation grant and “continue to supplement and enhance core recreation, fitness and nutrition programming at Holmes and Romain playgrounds for 750 youth over two 12-week sessions resulting in a 24 week youth soccer season.”
Neloms/Bernal conclude their report by promising to have Parks staff conduct post-season surveys to determine exactly how much Soccer for Success furthered its agenda in Fresno.
One other point: Soccer for Success won’t require a single penny from the general fund.
City Council meetings can be contentious. Council members on Thursday might want to take a break from the usual stress and use the Foundation grant to trumpet the Parks Department’s excellence.