New soccer fields in Pájaro Valley create safe spaces for youth

The Freedom to Play

For so many children, joy is the freedom to play, and run, and jump safely outside. It’s the triumph of success and a deep determination to keep getting better. It’s community and mentorship and friendship.

Now, thanks to the vision of the Pájaro Valley Sports Foundation and the generosity of donors, hundreds more children in Watsonville will have the opportunity to experience joy on new soccer fields at Freedom Elementary School...almost.

Another $100,000 needs to be raised to complete the project and during the month of May, Driscoll’s. Inc. will match community member’s donations dollar for dollar to the Freedom School Soccer Field Fund housed with us here at Community Foundation Santa Cruz County.

Safe Spaces

The field, which will be used by the school’s students during school hours, will serve as the “home field” for the 800 members of PV United through a Joint Use and Lease Agreement with the PVUSD.

“The location here is key,” says Gina Castañeda, a Santa Cruz County probation officer, a coach and member of the executive committee of the Pajaro Valley Youth Soccer Club (PV United), an executive committee member of the Pajaro Valley Sports Foundation, and the founder of the Aztecas Youth Soccer Academy. “Between Freedom Elementary School and Rolling Hills Middle School, there is no space to go outside to play and there is a lot of gang recruitment and activity,” says Gina.

This lack of access to physical activity exacerbates health problems like obesity and diabetes that local kids are facing. In Watsonville, roughly half of children are overweight or obese compared to 31% in Santa Cruz and 38% statewide.

Right now, she explains, due to lack of current field availability, local soccer organizations have to cap their registration resulting in hundreds of children losing the opportunity to play and a necessary rationing of practices and games.

“Soccer is everything. As part of a team, the kids have access to coaches who become mentors and another safe adult in their life. They learn about nutrition and behaviors that are healthy on and off the field. Through being a part of the team, they have continual conversations about leadership. And for many, regular exercise and participation helps them manage anxiety and establish a healthier routine where they look forward to practice, eat better, shower regularly, and sleep well.”

Everybody Needs Dreams

If the fundraising campaign is successful, the Freedom School Soccer Field should be finished by September, just in time for the fall sports season and the start of school.

“The school and administration have been great partners,” says Liliana Diaz, a local attorney and PV United executive committee member and volunteer. Right now, most school fields are unsafe to play on with large holes that can cause injury to students and players. “Unfortunately, the district doesn’t have the funding to fix them which is why this collaboration between PVUSD and local nonprofits is an exciting launch toward the Pájaro Valley Sports Foundation’s purpose of creating more safe sports fields in and around south county.”

Liliana says that the whole community has rallied behind this cause with donations coming in from individuals, organizations and businesses including Watsonville Rotary, Lakeside Organics, Roper Engineering, and a grant from our Borina Special Places fund at the Community Foundation.

“We all face challenges,” Liliana says, “but in spite of the obstacles, it’s important to pay attention to the positive things in our lives.” Liliana believes that for many student athletes of Watsonville, soccer is that positive thing. It’s something they can look forward to, a place of belonging and acceptance, and where they can have fun, be creative, gain self-confidence and learn valuable life lessons such as how to win and lose gracefully.

“Everybody deserves to dream,” she says, “and for some youth, their dreams are fulfilled by on the field playing soccer where they work hard, form sustaining bonds, and believe in themselves.”

Help build a safe place to play!

Donate to the Freedom School Soccer Field Fund

Note: Gina Castañeda and Liliana Diaz both serve on the Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees.