Photo of Andrew So in the center with SBU Academy graduates Gnim Bazim on the left and Kevin Anchundia on the right. Photo courtesy of Hakim Kabbaj.
By Randy Vogt, Director of Public Relations, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
February 2, 2016-South Bronx United Executive Director Andrew So, who has changed lives in the poorest Congressional District in the United States, has been named by the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA) as our Personality of the Month for February.
Andrew So founded the non-profit organization in 2009 in the South Bronx, along with his wife Stephanie, to build leaders and scholars through soccer.
“I started an afterschool soccer group at the school in the South Bronx where I taught. Through this experience, I realized two things,” Andrew explained. “One was students, many of whom had no prior interest in soccer, needed and longed for an out-of-school program where they could get off the streets, be with their peers and be supported in a safe environment. The second item was youth, primarily from immigrant families who grow up within a soccer culture, could greatly benefit from the chance to compete. Those skills and passion for soccer could provide opportunities in school, college and careers while also developing character and leadership.”
The seven boys travel teams of South Bronx United play in the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League (CJSL) while the three girls travel teams look to join the CJSL if the league resurrects its girls program. Over 800 kids from the South Bronx are registered in the club and they play on Randalls Island plus at Macombs Dam Park (the former site of Yankee Stadium), Mott Haven High School and South Bronx High School.
Along with Downtown United, another CJSL club, South Bronx United co-hosts the City Showcase Tournament every spring on Randalls Island which features teams from throughout Eastern New York. This year’s tourney will be played on March 25 and 26.
A highlight the past couple of years has been the play of South Bronx United SBU 98. After losing to Terryville AC Milan, 8-3, in the 2014 Boys-Under-15 Arch Capital Group Cup final, they rebounded with a 6-2 win over the North Shore Crush in the 2015 Boys-Under-16 Arch Capital final. And they looked good doing it for both finals appearances as all their players arrived at the Peter Collins Soccer Park in Plainview in white dress shirts and ties.
“The youth soccer club is one component of our programs and defines our organization as the primary way we reach and stay connected to youth who are otherwise underserved and often would not connect with other community-based youth organizations and youth service agencies,” Andrew stated. ”We are a youth development organization that merges the passion that South Bronx and immigrant youth have for soccer with off-the-field programs and services to better our community.”
Fields and funding are particular challenges and South Bronx United must raise over 95% of its budget to offer programs. The cost to families to participate is no more than $80 per child annually and it’s waived for many families who face immense financial hardship.
“Working with South Bronx and immigrant families is amazing because of all the unique characteristics, backgrounds and cultures everyone brings,” Andrew said. ”It is very challenging too. Parental involvement is low, because parents are very stretched by work and children and, for many, just making sure they can provide a roof and food. Some youth we work with do not even have any parents here to support them.”
The Manhattan resident used to coach but could not continue to concentrate on fundraising. He also once served as a CJSL Trustee when he had a bit more leisure time.
South Bronx United programs include academic enrichment, college prep, tutoring, mentoring, leadership development, immigration legal services and other social services. Through the SBU Academy, the organization provides a pathway from middle school to high school to college for the kids of the South Bronx. It’s working as 98% of SBU Academy players since 2012 have graduated high school compared to 56% of public school students in the South Bronx. Additionally, 97% of SBU Academy players had attendance rates over 90% and all were promoted to the next grade.
“A big accomplishment has been helping get 22 more South Bronx student/athletes, the Class of 2015, into college, including some very academically selective schools including Sarah Lawrence College, St. Lawrence University, Hobart College, Franklin and Marshall College, Clarkson University and more,” Andrew explained. “94% of our graduates over the past five years have enrolled in college, so that’s not new, but the academic quality of the schools they are attending is new.”
Last fall, another highlight occurred when 10 boys in a soccer program that South Bronx United runs with Catholic Charities and the South Bronx Health Center for unaccompanied migrant youth had the opportunity to meet Pope Francis in East Harlem and present him with a soccer ball.
“Without Andrew and his dedication, South Bronx United would not have become what it is today,” commented CJSL President Dimitrie Draguca. ”The program he has cultivated at South Bronx United should be a role model for all clubs as not only is soccer taught and trained there, but it has become a institution of education for the children.”
With all these accomplishments in one of the most impoverished areas in the United States, you can easily see why Andrew So is Eastern New York’s Personality of the Month.
With over 100,000 youth soccer players––both boys and girls––and more than 25,000 volunteers, the non-profit Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA) stretches from Montauk Point, Long Island to the Canadian border. Members are affiliated with 11 leagues throughout the association, which covers the entire state of New York east of Route 81. ENYYSA exists to promote and enhance the game of soccer for children and teenagers between the ages of 5 and 19 years old, and to encourage the healthy development of youth players, coaches, referees and administrators. All levels of soccer are offered––from intramural, travel team and premier players as well as Special Children. No child who wants to play soccer is turned away. ENYYSA is a proud member of the United States Soccer Federation and United States Youth Soccer Association. For more information, please log on to http://www.enysoccer.com/, which receives nearly 300,000 hits annually from the growing soccer community.