Voucher program helping Fresno kids get involved in sports

FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – The city of Fresno is trying to get more kids into sports and off the streets. A voucher program to help low-income parents get their children involved is in the works this month.

“As the father of a 10-year-old, I know the costs of a child’s participation in a football or summer baseball league,” said board member Miguel Arias. “I can tell you that the cost of these leagues ranges from $25,000 per year to $1,500 per year, right down to the free leagues where you don’t pay for the coaches, you only pay $5 for the referee each time you have a match.”

That’s why community organizers at the CNC Education Fund advocated for a sports voucher program for low-income families.

“There are young people who are excluded from these types of activities because they are too expensive or their parents work and cannot take them,” said Pedro Navarro Cruz of the CNC Education Fund.

He is also a volunteer soccer coach.

“It’s really difficult for the coach to get young people to play when some families can’t afford it and when resources are limited,” he said.

In June, City Council approved a $300,000 allocation for the sports voucher program. The City is working out the details this month; Arias says they are aiming to roll out the app in September.

“We’re trying to finalize like, what’s the maximum amount we should give someone, and should we ask for income verification,” he said.

Organizers say involving children in activities helps keep them off the streets.

“If I hadn’t grown up playing football, I don’t know where I would be in my life, because it may have distracted me from a lot of problems and not involving me in the wrong type of activity. And it’s the same for young people today,” Cruz said.

Funding is for this exercise only, but the city is exploring long-term solutions.

“In the past, I’m talking about the 1970s, the city of Fresno actually ran city leagues so kids didn’t have to pay fees to be able to participate,” Arias said, adding that’s something they could offer. Again.

Ryan H. Bowman