Project GOAL, Inc

Discussion in 'Youth & HS Soccer' started by redondo10, Nov 18, 2004.

  1. redondo10

    redondo10 New Member

    Apr 17, 2001
  2. redondo10

    redondo10 New Member

    Apr 17, 2001
    Here are a couple of recent articles that were emailed to me. It sounds like the program is in a bit of financial straits because of some funding that was pulled.

    Untimely boot for Project GOAL?
    An apparently successful program that includes soccer for middle-school students in Providence, Central Falls and Pawtucket may end after just one year.
    01:00 AM EDT on Wednesday, September 28, 2005
    Journal Sports Writer
    "To whom it may concern: This has been a blessing for my sons, Wilford and Philip; it was a blessing for me. ...The months they have spent with you have been the happiest of their lives. They are always excited when they come home. You have been a blessing to me by taking care of my children. Silver and gold I have not, but I have prayer. May God continue to bless you."
    -- From a letter written by Oretha Karsear, mother of Wilford and Philip Ghanyea.
    PROVIDENCE -- The preceding is part of a letter that Darius Shirzadi received from a parent.
    The sad thing is, the very thing that prompted Oretha Karsear to write this letter might soon cease to exist.
    Shirzadi and his friend Javier Centeno started a program called Project GOAL last year for middle-school students in Providence, Central Falls and Pawtucket. The program took several years to be finalized, and now, just a year after it became a reality, it might come to a halt.
    Project GOAL -- Greater Opportunity for Athletes to Learn -- uses soccer as the incentive to get the students -- most of them immigrants from Latin American and African countries -- to do better in school.
    In its only year of existence, the program has worked.
    Last year, Shirzadi, who used to work as a community liaison with the New England Revolution, and Centeno, a former R.I. Stingrays player, chose 30 sixth- and seventh-grade students among the many who had applied for their program.
    Those they selected gathered at Nathan Bishop Middle School on Providence's East Side twice a week for three hours each day. For the first 90 minutes, the students would do homework and get instruction from two teachers, who gave them more individuale attention than they could get during a school day.
    For the final 90 minutes, provided they had good attendance and good grades in school that week, they got to play soccer.
    At the end of each marking quarter, the students who were in good standing with the program got to participate in soccer tournaments.
    Everything -- the teachers, transportation, soccer equipment and tournament fees -- was paid for by Project GOAL.
    Shirzadi estimates that the program cost about $20,000 to run last year. Most of that money went to transportation costs and paying the teachers, Robin Yates and Opal Alves. Yates is the director of English as a second language at Central Falls High School, and Alves is an instructor at Community Preparatory School in South Providence.
    Over the course of the school year, every one of the students saw a marked improvement in his grades: C's and D's became A's and B's; failing grades were improved to passing. A few students had to be let go because they would not conform to the rules, but those who stayed were very dedicated and took advantage of the opportunity they were being given.
    Through an arrangement with Soccer Rhode Island, many of the students took part in the state's Olympic Development program, and also got to travel to New Jersey -- a big deal for most of the kids -- for a tournament this summer.
    As a way of staying in touch with their students, Shirzadi and Centeno had informal soccer sessions during the summer -- at 7 a.m. on Saturdays -- and nearly all of the boys showed up every week.
    Everyone involved with the program deemed it a success. Parents who have to work long hours were relieved to know that for a couple of days a week, at least, their children were in a safe environment, and they couldn't argue with the results they saw academically. Teachers noticed the improvements in attitude and aptitude. The students, many of whom had trouble adjusting to the ways of their new world, saw that they could achieve.
    But apparently, the evidence was not enough to satisfy everyone.
    Project GOAL received a $15,000 grant from Central Falls' SCOPE (Schools and Community Organized to Promote Excellence) program last year and the city provided transportation for the dozen or so Central Falls students -- and their young mentors from the High School -- to Bishop Middle School.
    This money was granted before the program had gotten under way. This year, with the success of the program in its first year clear (even the high school mentors saw an improvement in their grades), SCOPE pulled its funding. As of now, Project GOAL is on hold.
    After numerous phone calls, Shirzadi and Centeno finally have secured a meeting with SCOPE officials late next week to plead their case. In the meantime, they are gathering letters of support, talking to members of the Central Falls School Committee, and may even get to talk to Mayor Charles Moreau.
    While the money from SCOPE is helping children from three communities, Shirzadi believes officials of SCOPE also are affecting children from Central Falls.
    "They're eliminating their own kids from a program that we know works," Shirzadi said.
    Prayers are good, but right now Project GOAL could use some silver and gold, too.
    Darius Shirzadi can be contacted at or (401) 258-2300. You can also find out where to donate @ the Project GOAL website

    Here is the other article
    Project GOAL: Much more than just Soccer
    By Andrew Hush
    October 10, 2005

    “It’s weird. We had funding when we had no program. Now we have one and it has been successful, the funding has been taken away! For the longest time we could not get a call back from the organization until there was an article on the front page of the newspaper. All of a sudden we are told that ‘there is an appeal process and it can be reviewed’ so we are looking into that and hopefully will have an answer soon.”

    So says Darius Shirzadi, the founder and Executive Director of Project GOAL, a program that has given the opportunity to combine academic achievement with soccer to middle school-aged children in inner city areas in and around Providence, RI. Having secured sufficient funding to get the project off the ground last year, Shirzadi received the bad news recently that the organization’s funding application this year has been declined.

    With an established program that has had to turn players away due to a (current) lack of funding, it is clear that Project GOAL has the potential to grow exponentially. Of course, a lack of funding is the main problem to any expansion by Shirzadi and his colleagues. It is estimated that the money required equates to around fifteen thousand dollars:

    “Up to this point we have had a lot of private donations and have secured a couple of grants. The grand plan is to expand beyond the work we do now during the school year and into summer programming. We are looking for corporate sponsorship to help that get off the ground as the grant we were denied was a federal grant from Central Falls. That would have been used to pay for buses to get the children to and from Central Falls, as well as to pay for the teachers that we have on our staff. It is money that we never see as bills sent to their organization and they pay them.”

    “We are desperately looking for other donators and benefactors. We have applied to the United States Soccer Foundation and have been invited to apply again. We have never received any funding from them even though our program fits one of the focuses of their grants: Inner city youth soccer development. We want to get the attention of the big companies, such as Nike, Adidas or Reebok to help us. People in these communities do not have a lot of money but would be very loyal to anyone who shows interest in them and supports them.”

    As Shirzadi said, however, there is hope. An appeal has been lodged and will be heard soon and, it is hoped, that the required money will be made available. Of course, the more publicity and friends in high places that Project GOAL has, the better.

    “We have a meeting with the mayor of Central Falls. He has no say in the final funding decision but his influence can certainly help. The problem is that ours is an academic program but people in the educational field look at it as a soccer program being run by soccer people, given the background of Javier (Centeno, Shirzadi’s founding partner at Project GOAL) and I. They discount the power the sport has to motivate the kids who are really into it.”

    Shirzadi’s background saw him grow up in New York, before he went to Clark University. Having moved to Rhode Island, he took over as General Manager and assistant coach of the Rhode Island Stingrays. Shirzadi also started work with the New England Revolution when MLS started in 1995 on a volunteer basis.

    “I pretty much did everything (at the Stingrays) from team management through sponsorship to ticket sales, as well as also getting involved in the start of its camp program,” says Shirzadi.

    Following an offer of a full-time job with the Revolution, Shirzadi began work in the club’s ticket office initially before moving into community marketing and sales with Latino communities. It was there that he met Javier Centeno, a semi-professional soccer player and coach, who had grown up in Central Falls and knew first-hand of the troubles facing children in that and other neighborhoods.

    “That was really the start of things regarding Project GOAL,” comments Shirzadi. “Javier and I got to know people and would be asked to help. The usual stories came out, of outstandingly talented players who were dropping out of school and never getting the chance to go to college.

    “I talked to Peter Whealton, who was a Revolution season ticket holder and local business owner and he liked the idea of getting something going. Meetings started and money was raised. We also got one or two small grants. I left the Revs during this time and ended up concentrating on this while I started another full-time job in sales and marketing.”

    It took nearly three years to get to the point where the program could start without the initial people involved were not asking for too much money out of their own pocket. A couple of teachers were hired and sites for the sessions were secured.

    “The first session was so successful that we had to turn away kids because, at that time, we didn’t have the resources. It is a free program for those taking part and we provide equipment, school supplies, transportation to and from school or their bus stop. Kids are picked up from three different spots.

    With a name like Project GOAL and a program that uses soccer as a fundamental factor in motivating children, Shirzadi is keen to impress upon doubters that sport is the result, rather than the catalyst for those participating:

    “We have a small group of thirty (middle school aged) kids that work with two teachers. We also have mentors in high school to prepare them for what, hopefully, lies ahead. Soccer is used as a way to motivate them. If they do not show up for the school lessons then they do not play.

    “We teach so much more than soccer. The importance of attitude, commitment and being accountable to yourself is a key for us. We have removed kids from the curriculum that have not done what they are supposed to, and some of them were the better soccer players. Because, if they get away with it and end up in college, having that attitude then will see them get kicked out.

    “The children’s grades are monitored and we have our own curriculum in the program so we can see if the grades correlate with what they are doing in school. A lot of the kids come from backgrounds where English is not their first language, which means they get put in the ‘English as a second language’ scheme in public schools and they miss out on being in the full stream of learning with kids who speak English more fluently.

    “A lot of the kids are older than they should be for the grade they are in. For example, there will be a sixteen year old in the seventh grade. Not being able to grasp the concepts of the language means they struggle with the other subjects so we try to help them with that by giving them the individual attention they need.

    All participants are graded twice in every quarter based on a combination of everything, including attitude, work ethic, attendance, not only in Project GOAL, but also in school. The very least factor is soccer talent and, once a player has been accepted, he or she has to continue to earn the right to stay there.

    A typical session sees children spend ninety minutes in the classroom with teachers before they are allowed to play soccer. At the end of each period, a tournament is entered or a Revs game is attended. Shirzadi and his colleague ensure that the children and their parents are bussed there and provided with tickets and food:

    “That aspect is a real motivating factor for them because a lot of them have never been outside their own neighborhoods in their lives so, if we can offer them a trip to a game or a tournament in another state, that is a big deal.”

    Beyond the grass roots level of the program, Project GOAL has forged links with the Rhode Island soccer association to get the best players involved in the ODP program. This entails helping children with little financial background to be able to take part with little or no cost. For Shirzadi, this represents the chance for participants to play soccer at the highest level they can, without the worry of financial restrictions:

    “Our relationship with the state association addresses the problem of not getting the best kids involved because they cannot pay the registration fees or not being able to get there. State associations do have financial aid programs but not a lot of people know about them. In addition, the language barrier is important too as there are not people from the state side going into these communities advocating the value of the program so we have tried to assume that role. In return for that, the state has been very helpful with things like registration fees. That is where our influence ends, we stay away from putting pressure on them as to who to pick.”

    As important as it is to provide children with a link to further soccer opportunities, the more pressing need for Project GOAL currently is to ensuring the program has the means to run for another year:

    “We have money, that is not really the issue. The problem is that without the funding we were anticipating, the money would run out during the year. It would not be right to start it again, take on some new kids and have to end it halfway through, saying ‘sorry, we haven’t got any money left.’ That would be worse I think.

    “I’ve spoken to people I know in the game at all levels and people agree that soccer is becoming more and more a middle class sport and we are excluding a lot of the kids who don’t just get together when there is an organized practice. These kids will play in their neighborhoods all the time. That is a cultural thing given their backgrounds. This is played out when you watch an ODP tournament or something similar: the representation of backgrounds is not very diverse. Without taking away from the various leagues across the region, the difference for the kids we deal with is that this is the only thing they know. It is almost like they have an extra passion for the sport because of that.”

    For Darius Shirzadi, the goal is not to necessarily create professional soccer players but to improve young people. For him, if these children can somehow use their athletics, academics or a combination of the two to better themselves and get to university or college then he will feel like Project GOAL has done its job.

    “The key word is opportunity. These kids have very limited opportunities currently because of their financial situation, their lack of understanding of the culture and the educational system. Their parents are just too busy working to feed their families and put a roof over their heads to know where their kids are all of the time.

    “The kids don’t see people going to college from their neighborhoods. Statistics show the drop off from kids that go to middle schools high schools is huge.”

    In the future, Shirzadi wants to have full-time staff working for the program, who can organize everything from funding to visiting schools to check the program’s kids have shown up. With a program now established that he and a handful of other passionate volunteers set up and self-financed, the desperate need for funds NOW is apparent. It is hoped that beneficiaries will step up to help those that are in love with soccer in its purest form.

    For more information on Project Goal, go to

    Darius Shirzadi can be reached on 401-258-2300 or at

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