Cross-Sector Partnership Leads to Cross-Issue Impact

A grassroots soccer league transcends sport to effect community-wide change.

A member of the Oak View Youth Soccer League prepares to kick during a recent league finals game. (Photo by Michael Connors)

Years ago, unruly adult scofflaws and their unofficial soccer league dominated the fields of Oak View Elementary School in Huntington Beach, Calif. Beer bottles and damaged turf were routinely left in the renegades’ wake.

Though sizeable at 10,000 people, the Oak View neighborhood in Huntington Beach is little known. Those who do know of it often associate it with the worst of times; murders were not uncommon there during the 80s and early 90s, and after the Rodney King verdict in 1992, the police substation was firebombed.

By the mid-90s, however, Oak View gradually began to change. A new community-policing model eventually prevailed in significantly reducing crime and gang presence. This relative stability paved the way for new community services to take hold, including a family resource center operated by the Children’s Bureau and a state preschool.

These gains emboldened neighborhood resident Jose Luis Rodriguez to take action in 2005 against the soccer transgressors. His son was 10 years old, and he envisioned a place-based, affordable league for him and other children. Established leagues in the area were prohibitively expensive for residents, most of whom still live at or below the poverty level.

Jose Luis, though not formally trained in community development, had a natural inclination toward collaboration: He appealed to the school principal for help to oust the unofficial league. From there, the district joined with the city to bar the league and make room for the new Oak View Youth Soccer League (OVYSL). Now nine years on, OVYSL has grown to include more than 700 children and has expanded to other fields in the city.

Jose Luis Rodriguez, founder of Oak View Youth Soccer League, stands among trophies that would be awarded during recent league finals. (Photo by Michael Connors)

In 2006, Jack Shaw, a retired vice chairman at Deloitte, founded Oak View Renewal Partnership (OVRP) to better coordinate collective impact in Oak View. OVRP’s first executive director helped Jose Luis professionalize the league. It’s been my pleasure to continue the relationship since 2009 when I came on as executive director.

We’ve continued to work closely with the school district and city, and we’ve brought in additional local, regional, and national partners to make the league one of the best in Southern California—at a highly affordable $14 fee per child per season. Partners include Boys & Girls Clubs, Chivas USA (a Major League Soccer team), Cal South (Southern California affiliate of US Soccer), local businesses, and family and corporate foundations.

One of the greatest impacts of the league has been on youth engagement and public safety. A 2010 survey by the Evaluation and Training Institute out of Los Angeles found that 98 percent of parents “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that OVYSL “keeps my child from engaging in risky behaviors.”

“The community seems more peaceful; there is less violence and gang activity,” typified comments in the write-in section of the survey. Parents also wrote that their kids were now living a healthier lifestyle thanks to the league. Comments such as “My children are active all week and are not thinking about eating and watching TV,” were common.

Jose Luis probably couldn’t have foreseen just how impactful the league would become. Like ripples building to a current, the initial actions of the league to address youth engagement and public safety have resulted in a stronger force altogether—what we might call “cross-issue impact.”

One example of cross-issue impact is academic achievement. Though causation is difficult to prove, we believe that the league may have played a role in the impressive growth of the Academic Performance Index at Oak View Elementary School. It has seen an 81 percent improvement—going from 421 in 1999 (the first year it was measured) to 760 in 2013. Research supports the link: A 2005 study in the Journal of Exercise Physiology Online, among others, indicates a consistent positive relationship between overall physical fitness and academic achievement.

Another example of cross-issue impact is adult leadership development: Jose Luis recruited neighborhood residents to coach and run the league. They have developed skills and gained confidence from these leadership experiences that have propelled them to other involvements at community cleanups, community forums, and city council meetings. Some league volunteers have even scored paid positions in the community: Examples include a young man who got a job at the local Boys & Girls Club and a woman who got a job at the elementary school supervising children.

Desegregation is yet another cross-issue impact. Because of its drastically different demographics, the nearly 100 percent Hispanic Oak View neighborhood was virtually cut off at its nadir from the rest of Huntington Beach. OVYSL has helped break down that isolation: Through word of mouth over the past five years, children from different ethnicities and neighborhoods have registered. The league is currently 5 percent non-Hispanic, and diversity is growing. Affordability aside, many are naturally drawn to the league by its growing reputation for offering the best competition around.

At this point, the league is thriving, and in the effort to help it succeed on its own, OVRP is helping it gain its own nonprofit status.

Perhaps the league’s greatest recent achievement is that it has sparked interest among other underserved communities in Orange County, which have reached out to potentially duplicate the model. With the right direction, Oak View’s success might just flow through these communities too.

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  • BY Victoria A. Beard

    ON May 30, 2014 01:19 PM

    Inspiring community development article. I hope this story reaches other non-profits with similar missions in California.

  • Pierre Pupier's avatar

    BY Pierre Pupier

    ON May 30, 2014 07:38 PM

    I’ve witnessed first-hand Oak View Renewal Partnership’s impact on the community it serves.  The youth soccer league is just one example of its great programs and initiatives.  Congratulations and keep up the good work.

  • Mary Cutchin's avatar

    BY Mary Cutchin

    ON May 31, 2014 08:16 AM

    It’s good to hear about projects that actually work, making an impact in our communities.  This is so inspiring and gives me hope for our neighborhoods, cities and Country!  Mary Cutchin

  • Michael Connors's avatar

    BY Michael Connors

    ON June 1, 2014 05:02 PM

    Thanks Pierre for pointing out our multi-initiative approach. In addition to assisting Oak View Youth Soccer League, Oak View Renewal Partnership’s other initiatives include workforce development, microenterprise development, leadership development, mobile medical and dental clinics, community cleanups, and community gardens.

  • Virginia Clara's avatar

    BY Virginia Clara

    ON June 1, 2014 06:14 PM

    I think it is amazing how a program like this one has grown tremendously. It makes me really proud that many of the residents are starting to take on leadership roles in their community. Growing up in the Oak View Community, programs like this were rarely seen. The Oak View Soccer League among other programs, have truly shown the importance of having these programs in our community. I have seen it first hand and continue seeing it, by witnessing my neighbors and friends take their children to the soccer league program. I hope that this resident led program and other resident led programs continue growing and continue making a difference!

  • Mollie Grierson's avatar

    BY Mollie Grierson

    ON June 1, 2014 07:05 PM

    Working in the Oak View community, I’ve seen first hand the dedication and determination of strong leaders such as those involved in the Oak View Youth Soccer League. I look forward to seeing other outstanding resident leaders come into their own, working to empower those around them and improve their lives and the lives of their families. Great work!

  • sport is always a great way to bring people together

  • This is so inspiring - I would love to see this kind of program in Vallejo. It’s very important to have opportunities like this available to all segments of society, maybe even more important to have them available to kids on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum.

  • Julie C. Grunspan's avatar

    BY Julie C. Grunspan

    ON June 10, 2014 06:34 AM

    This story made my day.  It is so inspiring to hear that conviction, hard work, and dedication by good people is making a real impact on this community.  I am a firm believer that physical fitness informs every aspect of a person’s life.  Creating opportunities for children to exercise, and affordably, is very important.  Kudos to everyone involved in this project- keep up the good work!  These children will experience the world differently because of it.

  • Brandon's avatar

    BY Brandon

    ON June 11, 2014 01:02 PM

    What a remarkable turnaround for this challenged community! Hopefully this approach can be applied to other communities facing similar issues.

  • Harrison Brunelli's avatar

    BY Harrison Brunelli

    ON June 12, 2014 03:15 PM

    It’s amazing to see what sports can do for children and a community! I’m glad to see that the Oak View Renewal Partnership is supporting this type of positive activity in Huntington Beach. It’s great to see leaders stepping up in the community and organizations willing to support them.

  • Vianey Hernandez's avatar

    BY Vianey Hernandez

    ON June 12, 2014 03:19 PM

    What a great way to impact the community! Keep up the great work. These programs continue to beautify our communities and the lives of many.

  • Terri Grierson's avatar

    BY Terri Grierson

    ON June 12, 2014 03:22 PM

    What wonderful work you are doing! I am particularly impressed with your efforts around leadership development.

  • Jen Cowhy's avatar

    BY Jen Cowhy

    ON June 12, 2014 05:33 PM

    What an inspiring story and great work. I am impressed by the authors’ connections to cross-area impact. And, like Terri Grierson, am impressed by the efforts around leadership development. Are there ways that youth also gain leadership skills or are encouraged to be agents for change in their community?

  • Tammy Falardeau's avatar

    BY Tammy Falardeau

    ON June 13, 2014 08:44 AM

    Very Inspiring story. Sports are taken for granted in many communities and often its about winning and losing.  This story exemplifies the real (sometimes less obvious) benefits of team sports: increased academic performance, leadership development, physical fitness, reduced delinquency and camaraderie of not just the athletes but the parents, coaches and fans.

    This program should be leveraged to as many communities as possible!

    Great Job OVRP!!


  • Steve Shafer's avatar

    BY Steve Shafer

    ON June 13, 2014 12:16 PM

    This is a really great story that needs all of our help to get out there to the mainstream media. The success that this soccer program has had in not only making the community a better place but also steering the youth away from gangs and into positive activities like soccer is fantastic. Go OVYSL!

  • Michael Connors's avatar

    BY Michael Connors

    ON June 16, 2014 12:19 PM

    Thank you for your comment. I would like to address your question regarding youth development in the Oak View neighborhood. Oak View Renewal Partnership was recently honored with a Community Building Initiative grant from St. Joseph Health Community Partnership Fund. A resident-led group has decided to apply that grant to further reducing juvenile delinquency in Oak View. The group will be developing ways to engage youth so that they may be agents for change.

  • Beau McFarland's avatar

    BY Beau McFarland

    ON June 17, 2014 09:57 AM

    Hopefully more communities will see the positive collateral impact programs like these have on adolescent actualization across the board. Awesome article…. Especially in the midst of World Cup fervor.

  • Oscar Rodriguez's avatar

    BY Oscar Rodriguez

    ON June 17, 2014 12:17 PM

    Oak View Youth Soccer League thanks everybody for their support! GRACIAS!

  • This seems like a great initiative especially the de-segregation portion of it. Things like these help encourage cultural understanding which in turn cuts down on cultural miscommunication. Great Job!

  • Claudia Hilbck Peschiera's avatar

    BY Claudia Hilbck Peschiera

    ON June 18, 2014 09:43 AM

    Excellent article! Way to go Oak View Youth Soccer League!

  • David L. Cutchin PhD's avatar

    BY David L. Cutchin PhD

    ON June 18, 2014 01:52 PM

    Great to hear about a successful local organization like the OVYSL.  Nicely worded article.

  • Carlos's avatar

    BY Carlos

    ON July 2, 2014 03:23 PM

    Great article - and even better program. This should be used as an example for other communities. They can also reach out to other MLS teams to support their local programs. The desegregation aspect of this program will improve the strength of the community.

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