The nonprofit’s “Sport for Good” approach demonstrates that the passion and character building aspects of sports can be carried over into daily life.
By Jason Phox
Photo: A coach-mentor and a player share an air high-five during Open Field’s 2020 Summer Program. Due to COVID-19, summer and fall activities included both virtual and in-person programs. Courtesy of Open Field
In 2019, Open Field Founder and CEO Justin Forzano partnered with the Somali Bantu Community Association of Pittsburgh and Youth Places to operate his nonprofit organization with youth from Crafton Heights and Northview Heights.*
Open Field works to provide sport-based programming for youth to play and learn new skills to succeed in school and life.
Open Field also creates leadership training for high school youth by offering them positions as coaches and referees, mentoring younger children in their neighborhood. One of their programs, called Change Agents Mentoring Peers through Sport, or CHAMPS, gives summer employment opportunities to high school students and provides an opportunity for them to build skills to support success in the classroom now and eventually in the workforce beyond graduation.
“Our CHAMPS program employs teenagers as youth leaders, providing them the skills and experience they need to be successful in the classroom and in the workforce in the future as they take on a leadership role in programs in their neighborhood,” Forzano said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Open Field moved and created programs to be held in a virtual environment.
“Very much like our in-person programs, our virtual programs incorporate physical activities and soccer-based ‘foot skills’ that youth can do in their living rooms and coach-mentors facilitate engaging conversations with youth on setting goals and building good habits,” Forzano said.
Other programs offered are “soccer +,” which focuses on life skills, and a traditional sport-based youth development model led by adult coach-mentors virtually.
Open Field developed their “Sport for Good” approach in 2017, which is a theory and practice for youth engagement using the passion and character building attributes in sport to create positive outcomes in the lives of participants, according to their website.
“Our programming incorporates social and emotional skills learning to help participants understand and manage emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish positive relationships, and make responsible decisions,” Forzano said. “Youth also learn positive communication skills, teamwork, and gain confidence in themselves.”
The nonprofit started in 2010 when Forzano and other co-founders began organizing an educational youth soccer camp. After-school programs and an international team exchange followed in 2011.
“Previously, all programming was in Cameroon, Africa,” Forzano explained. “First we ran after-school programs, then we began running community leagues focused on health and gender equity. In 2016, we evolved and began our youth-led, community-based approach. In 2019, we expanded our programming to Pittsburgh with a pilot in Northview Heights.”
According to their 2019 annual report, Open Field doubled their programs in Cameroon, and operate in 12 neighborhoods in three cities in the Southwest and Northwest regions.
Through partners and funders such as The FIFA Foundation, Street Football World, New Sun Rising, The Heinz Foundation and PNC Charitable Trusts, Open Field is able to provide a variety of sports-related programs to youth.
COVID-19 challenged Open Field; they had to adjust their programs to be safe for staff and youth.
“Despite the pandemic, Open Field persisted,” Forzano said. “The activities carried out as part of Open Field’s 2020 programs include virtual soccer + life skills programming for 45 boys and girls from across the city and in-person programming for 82 boys and girls in Northview Heights and Crafton Heights and on the Northside through partnership with Youth Places. Spring activities were limited to virtual programming only while summer and fall included both virtual and in-person programs.”
The new season kicks off for Open Field teams in April. Sessions will be held at Fowler Park in Perry Hilltop on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Youth ages six to 16 of all skill levels are eligible to participate. Programs are free and donations are welcome in support of them. For more information about the programs, contact Open Field at [email protected]
*Editor’s note 5/5/2021: This article has been update for clarity.