Now that the Heart of Los Angeles has support from Fox Sports en Espanol, kids in the organization's soccer league will have the clothing and equipment they need. It's a transformation that's especially meaningful for Haymen Gebru.
Gebru first became involved with the Central City Athletic Association, a basketball and soccer league organized by Heart of Los Angeles, in 1991 when he was a teen. He came to the United States from Africa hoping for a better life, but instead found himself destitute and alone. Through the sports leagues, he developed caring mentors and a place to go after school the HOLA community center on Wilshire Boulevard in the Rampart District.
He was so impressed by his experience that he stayed around to coach basketball after graduating from high school. Since then, Gebru took a four-year break from the organization to get his bachelor's degree from California State University, Los Angeles and is now returning as the organization's new athletics coordinator, hoping he can do as much for the current participants as his coaches did for him.
But when Gebru was a student, the athletic association had little funding and equipment.
"We used to wear T-Shirts that sometimes had numbers on them and sometimes didn't, and we had to bring our own shorts. But many kids didn't have shorts so they played in jeans," he said. "It was also really hard to find transportation to our games."
With the sponsorship, money won't be an issue.
Earlier this year, Fox Sports en Espanol signed a one-year contract with HOLA to sponsor the soccer league. The company has provided the league with new uniforms, trophies, transportation and a picture day for students and their families and financed all official fees and administration costs.
"HOLA was struggling to keep the league afloat and we were able to finance all of it," said Patrick Ilabaca, Fox Sports en Espanol's director of marketing and communications. "But the monetary value the league is receiving does not compare to what the kids are receiving from the experience."
The league consists of four divisions girls and boys varsity and junior varsity and has two seasons a year. It has almost doubled in size since the beginning of the sponsorship to include 756 students. Both Fox Sports and HOLA expect that the league will expand even further with the start of the fall season.
"There is a space limit, but Fox's vision and our vision is to continue to grow the league because the demand is definitely there," said Mitchel Moore, HOLA's executive director. "We want to make this the best league possible and, by September, we will hit every age group."
The goal of the league is to get children at-risk for drugs or violence off the streets and improve their self-esteem and respect for others. While admission is on a first-come-first-serve basis, coordinators reach out to those who would not otherwise be able to engage in sports activities either because of economic reasons, bad grades, or bad attitudes.
It was the organization's dedication to this goal that originally attracted Fox Sports.
"The network is getting to a point where we are able to invest more into our communities, so we began looking around for grass root movements," Ilabaca said. "We started looking at HOLA because of the great ideals that they have and when I saw first hand how the kids were benefiting from these programs, we decided it was a great opportunity to help."
While the current contract will end after the current season, Ilabaca and the network hope to renew the sponsorship every September.
"We're not doing this just to say 'Look, this is what we did for 2006.' It's not a one time deal," he said. "I look forward to doing this over and over and maybe starting some other partnerships as well."
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