The Learning Help Centers of Charlotte has assisted people in some of Charlotte’s low income apartment complexes for more than a year.
The Christian-based organization provides spiritual enrichment and financial assistance for rent and utility bills. Youth-oriented programs include after-school tutoring and a weeklong summer camp. During the summer, LHCC leaders decided there was a program they could add that would appeal to young people – soccer.
The Learning Help Centers of Charlotte developed partnerships with Forest Hills Church, on Park Road, and a local youth soccer training facility to provide free coaching and instruction.
Jeff Park, LHCC’s founder and director, said the basis of his organization’s mission is partnering with local churches to place chaplains in apartment complexes where they direct LHCC’s programs. The nonprofit organization focuses on neighborhoods along South Boulevard and Central Avenue.
LHCC is established in five apartment complexes throughout Charlotte, including the Sun Valley Apartments off of Arrowood Road and the Sharon Lakes Condominiums close to Sharon Road, both in South Charlotte.
Other LHCC sites include the Advenir at Casa Bella Apartments off of Albemarle Road, Oak Park at Briar Creek Apartments, and the Silverstone Apartments in the University City area.
“The majority of our kids are immigrants and refugees,” said Park, who lives in Fort Mill.
“With our emphasis on immigrant and refugee children … soccer is the main sport. In most of the Learning Help Centers … soccer is the major sport of interest.”
Ballantyne resident Daniel Araujo, a native of Uruguay, had a special interest in LHCC’s clientele, because many are Latino. Araujo is a technical director with Creative Player Sports, which specializes in soccer instruction.
Araujo, who also serves on boards at the Harris YMCA and the Latin American Chamber of Commerce, said he came to the United States because of soccer. He said he played professional soccer for seven years.
In 2002, John Pietak founded Creative Player Sports, which has an indoor-outdoor facility on Wilkinson Boulevard. Araujo became a partner in the company in 2006.
LHCC’s traditional four-day summer camp also offers other daylong field trips This summer, LHCC and CPS partnered to hold an additional full week of camp at the CPS facility.
“Our vision is to teach the kids to use a soccer ball as a tool of education,” said Araujo. “We do soccer training. We have ESL (English as a second language) classes for the parents. It’s more like an educational facility, using soccer as an excuse for the kids to go there.”
Some of the youth who attended the LHCC summer camp were invited to continue training for free in CPS’s fall academies.
On Sept. 21, LHCC hosted events at Silverstone and Sun Valley apartments in which Pietak and Araujo taught soccer skills to the children. Samaritan’s Feet also was there to distribute more than 250 pairs of shoes.
Attending the Silverstone Apartments clinic was 9-year-old La’Kena Williamson, who recognized Pietak and Araujo from the summer camp at CPS. Also present was 9-year-old Carlos Palacios who met Araujo and Pietak for the first time and expressed a keen interest in attending the CPS academies.
Araujo also discussed that possibility with Carlos’ 15-year-old sister Ashley.
“I’m learning that the program is for different ages,” said Ashley. “Me and my brother like soccer and would like to be a part of it.”
LHCC will do its best to make sure that happens.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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