As part of its work to promote health and wellness, the Aetna Foundation has awarded a $140,000 grant to the U.S. Soccer Foundation. The funds will expand Soccer for Success, a free, after-school fitness and nutrition program, to kids from low-income communities in Detroit, Houston and Washington, D.C. About 2500 kids are expected to enroll in the program. Soccer for Success uses the sport of soccer to help kids from low-income neighborhoods be physically active in a safe environment and mentored by caring adults. The program teaches kids how to eat a healthy diet and the importance of drinking plenty of water, getting a good night’s sleep, managing stress and other healthy habits. “We need to step up our efforts to make healthy lifestyles and wellness our top priorities if we are to reverse today’s rising rates of diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions,” said Gillian Barclay, vice president of the Aetna Foundation and director of national grant making. “When kids learn good health habits at an early age, they are more likely to enjoy better health throughout their lifetime. Soccer for Success’s track record shows the program can make a real difference.” Unlike sports leagues that focus on athletic competition, Soccer for Success is designed to improve kids’ health through fun exercise and healthy eating. The program runs after school three or more times a week for 24 weeks. Each 90-minute session includes at least one hour of physical activity to build stamina and fitness. To promote healthier diets, the program teaches kids about the benefits of eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Even soccer drills incorporate lessons about nutrition. For example, during the traditional skill-building drill known as “green light, red light”, coaches may shout a healthy food like “kale” to signal “go” and an unhealthy food like “chips” to signal “stop.”
Ed Foster-Simeon, CEO and president of the U.S. Soccer Foundation, says that the program’s mission goes beyond promoting kids’ physical health. It also helps build self-esteem and strong social skills.“We want to build healthy, vibrant communities using the sport of soccer,” said Foster-Simeon. “Our coaches serve as mentors and help kids make positive choices, both on and off the field. We encourage families to get involved so that their kids live a healthy lifestyle after they leave our program. Through our partnerships with schools and community groups, we are working to improve kids’ well-being in a dynamic way.” Soccer for Success is managed locally by a community group in each city. Detroit PAL operates the program in Detroit, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department in Houston, and DC SCORES in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Soccer Foundation launched Soccer for Success in 2009 in Houston and currently offers the program in 20 cities and will reach about 16,000 kids by the summer of 2013. In 2011, the federal government’s Social Innovation Fund awarded $2 million to support the expansion of Soccer for Success. About the Aetna Foundation The Aetna Foundation, Inc. is the independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna Inc. (NYSE: AET). Since 1980, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have contributed $412 million in grants and sponsorships, including $18 million in 2011. As a national health foundation, we promote wellness, health, and access to high-quality health care for everyone. This work is enhanced by the time and commitment of Aetna employees, who have volunteered more than 2.6 million hours since 2003. Aetna’s current giving is focused on addressing the rising rate of adult and childhood obesity in the U.S.; promoting racial and ethnic equity in health and health care; and advancing integrated health care. For more information, visit www.AetnaFoundation.org. About the U.S. Soccer Foundation The U.S. Soccer Foundation is a recognized leader in sports-based youth development programs for children in underserved, urban communities. Since its founding in 1994, the organization has provided more than $59 million in funding to create and sustain innovative programs across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Proven to deliver positive health and social outcomes, the Foundation’s affordable initiatives offer safe environments in which both boys and girls thrive. Headquartered in Washington, D.C. the U.S. Soccer Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization. Visit www.ussoccerfoundation.org to learn more.