Location and general information
Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate of the ten largest cities in the United States: 37% of children there live in poverty and struggle with underperforming schools, poor diets, unsafe communities and other barriers to success. This entrenched poverty has a long-term impact: Philadelphia ranks last among all Pennsylvania counties on health outcomes and only 67% of Philadelphia public high-school students graduate on time. Less than 20% of those graduates obtain a college degree within six years. Educational attainment is directly linked to social mobility — without a college degree or vocational training, low-income youngsters have little chance of escaping poverty.
Sports can help to address the problems faced by youngsters in places such as Philadelphia. Young people who participate in athletics are healthier, less likely to be obese and more successful academically, as they are better able to concentrate and behave and therefore complete high school and attend college (Up2Us Sports). Teenage girls who play sport are less likely to smoke, use illicit drugs or suffer from depression, and have a lower risk of osteoporosis and breast cancer later in life (Women’s Sports Foundation). Sports also provide youngsters with caring adult mentors and help them learn critical life skills. Mentored young people tend to have more ambitious goals and attain a higher level of academic achievement.
However, access is a problem. Philadelphia’s low-income young people have fewer opportunities at school, in recreational programmes and in their neighbourhoods, which often lack safe places to play. Low-income students participate less in sports than their middle-income peers, and 37% of low-income youngsters have no mentors in their lives. In the United States, 60% of children who play sport have to pay fees. Low-income youngsters simply cannot afford to participate. Girls especially face barriers to participation in sport owing to a lack of opportunities and role models, and negative societal pressure. The Starfinder Foundation exists to fill these gaps and help children and young people achieve their full potential.
Starfinder’s Senior Leaders Program focuses on young people (aged 14 to 18 years) from low-income and underserved Philadelphia neighbourhoods. This intensive after-school programme combines football training with health and fitness promotion, academic support and leadership development in order to help participants achieve success both on and off the field.
The aim of the programme is to help young people develop critical personal and leadership skills that will help them become successful, healthy adults. Football is a great vehicle for both engaging and supporting youngsters to this end.
- Football training
- Leadership development
- Academic support
- “Focus Fuel” fitness sessions
Starfinder’s leadership curriculum uses football as a framework to help young people develop specific life and leadership skills. The curriculum is organised into different sections: self, interpersonal, team and community. Leadership topics covered in formal weekly sessions are then reinforced and put into practice with coach-mentors in weekly ‘Focus Fuel’ fitness sessions and at football practice. ‘Team Time’ at the end of every practice gives participants an opportunity to reflect on their application of the weekly leadership topic and helps them to make connections between what they are doing on and off the field.
Operational goals include:
- building long-term financial health through effective revenue generation and fiscal management;
- increasing public awareness of and support for Starfinder’s mission, impact and reputation for excellence;
- upgrading Starfinder’s facilities; and
- increasing organisational resilience with effective operating practices and a highly qualified, motivated workforce.
The Senior Leaders Program serves 120 high-school students each year, primarily from low-income neighbourhoods in Philadelphia with low to average household incomes. The majority of participants have little or no access to safe and healthy development opportunities, including quality sports programmes or safe spaces to play within their schools and neighbourhoods. The goal is to equip this very diverse group of young people, almost 50% of whom are female, with the above-mentioned tools to help them to better develop their health and physical fitness, emotional well-being and life and leadership skills. Since its establishment, Starfinder has provided services to over 11,000 young people, with its graduating seniors achieving a 100% high-school graduation rate and 91% college matriculation rate in a city where over 30% of kids drop out of high school.