Nine-year-old Marco Ortiz Castro’s Christmas list isn’t that long: new shin guards, cleats and maybe a few soccer balls. And he hopes to join a soccer team in the spring, perhaps even try out to be goalie.
But there’s one problem — soccer is expensive.
“To have access in Boulder to any sport, not just soccer, is a big privilege. It’s for people with money,” says Jorge De Santiago, executive director of El Centro AMISTAD, a nonprofit immigration rights organization. Since 2000, the group has been promoting education, health and quality of life for Latinos living in Boulder County.
As a soccer coach for the past 14 years, De Santiago has seen many kids like Marco, kids who have passion and even talent, but who are unable to join local clubs and teams because of the cost.
“I’ve watched Marco play and he has a lot of potential,” De Santiago says. “And there’s a lot of other kids like him. Kids in his neighborhood, that when I watch them play on the street, I think, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of talent there.’”
As part of a new campaign, Justicia Refrescante (refreshing justice), El Centro AMISTAD is hoping to raise awareness of health equity gaps throughout Boulder County by sharing stories like Marco’s. The campaign hopes to shed light on the lack of access to healthy food, clean water and sports within the Latino population in an effort to increase the overall health and wellbeing of the community.
“This is a lot of what families really struggle with, and we want to bring those voices out of the shadows and ask how we can really start addressing and change this in our community,” De Santiago says.
Throughout 2017, AMISTAD advocates plan to give presentations at schools, city council meetings, and nonprofit gatherings throughout Boulder County. The hope is to recruit both volunteers and financial support for their efforts, De Santiago says, but the ultimate goal is changing local policy to address the access disparities throughout the community.
“For us this is a health equity issue,” De Santiago says. “To have access to all these areas really provides a healthy environment and a healthy life for families.”
As a community health promoter with AMISTAD, Elena Aranda first met Marco and his family three years ago. The oldest of four children, Marco lives with his mom Roxanna and siblings in Boulder Meadows mobile home park in North Boulder.
“Since then, she’s been telling me about the difficulty of having the children in activities in sports,” Aranda says.
So she tried to find Marco a scholarship to play on a local team, but the best she could do was the club in Longmont where De Santiago was the coach. Although there are scholarship programs available throughout the county, De Santiago says at most they cover 60 percent of the annual $1,000 fee to join competitive teams, leaving the family responsible for up $400 dollars a year, plus the cost of equipment and jerseys.
“But it’s not just the money, I can’t afford the time to take him to the games,” Roxanna says via a translator. “And that’s frustrating.”
“For years I’ve been taking 10 kids in my car and taking them to practice,” De Santiago says. “It’s the reality. And there’s a problem because there are a lot of parents working full time, two jobs, but the kids deserve to have that opportunity to play.”
So even with the scholarship, Roxanna had to tell Marco he still couldn’t play soccer, a heartbreaking moment for both of them.
De Santiago says AMISTAD works with another 30 to 40 kids in Boulder Meadows alone who are in the same situation as Marco — dreaming of participating in sports teams and classes, but their families either can’t afford the time or resources to enroll them. Although soccer is the biggest draw for both girls and boys, kids also want to play basketball and baseball, take gymnastics and dance.
Sometimes AMISTAD will organize pick up soccer games for the kids on Saturdays at Crestview Elementary and 50 kids will show up.
“We want to give the kids not just a one-time shot at playing, but we want to see more sustainable ways for them to continue playing,” De Santiago says. “AMISTAD is committed to doing that for these families.”
With financial and transportation help through AMISTAD, Marco’s able to play games this winter at Boulder Indoor Soccer, along with six other kids sponsored through the efforts of the Justicia Refrescante campaign.
Come spring, Marco and the other kids want to join club teams as well, but it gets more difficult as there are more practices and games can be further away, De Santiago says. But for now, Marco is just happy to play. He sits in the chair next to his mom, wearing long soccer socks, his hands folded in his lap as he smiles and swings his legs.
“I’m very thankful at finally seeing Marco and other kids’ dreams come true,” Roxanna says. “And having support from others, that makes me really happy, [it helps] to make Marco’s dreams come true.”