While the top soccer teams duke it out in Brazil for the World Cup championship, hundreds of kids at Cooper Park in Mountain View are participating in their own World Cup.
On the first day of the Kick, Lead, and Dream (KLD) summer soccer camp, as many as 400 kids from third to eighth grade get together and form teams, each one with its own country and flag to represent them throughout the two-week soccer-filled camp.
But the camp goes beyond just World Cup mimicry. KLD was created by two Mountain View High School students in 2007 in an effort to bring the summer camp experience to underprivileged kids in Mountain View and Sunnyvale.
"It's a fun and positive camp for those who don't normally have access to summer camps," said Joe Seither, a parent volunteer for KLD.
The goal of the camp, as the name suggests, is to bolster soccer skills, teach leadership qualities and give participants the confidence to dream big, according to the KLD website. With a minimal $10 registration fee and provided transportation to Cooper Park, camp organizers pull down the typical barriers to summer camp access.
Each day camp organizers set up 10 small soccer fields with a paint sprayer and have kids play tournament-style games of soccer from 12:30 to 3:30. In between games, the camp has guest speakers like soccer players from the San Jose Earthquakes and the Stanford men's soccer team, as well as principals, superintendents and police officers. Their messages to the kids vary, but they encourage them to stay in school and work hard.
KLD has a kind of peculiar grassroots setup. Seither, one of five parent volunteers, said in a way the camp doesn't exist.
"There's no formal nonprofit called 'KLD Soccer.' Tt doesn't exist as its own entity," Seither said.
Instead, the camp is run by a handful of parents responsible for funding the program, which needs about $25,000 to be self-sufficient. They're also responsible for marketing and outreach to school campuses across both cities, as well as working with school resource officers and administrators.
It's a lot to ask for from parent volunteers, but they have help. The Los Altos and Mountain View Police Departments, along with the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District and Sunnyvale Police Activities League, all donate time and resources to help put on the camp each year.
Bus transportation for camp members is one of the biggest budget expenses for the camp, and Seither said MVLA Superintendent Barry Groves was able to help camp organizers quite a bit by providing use of district buses for a nominal fee.
Seither said Sunnyvale PAL was also instrumental this year to get things up and running.
If you head out to Cooper Park during the camp hours, you won't see adults and parent volunteers leading the hundreds of kids through their soccer games. That's because each year around 75 to 85 high school students from Mountain View, Sunnyvale and the greater community volunteer to be camp counselors and coaches for the kids.
Seither said many of these high school students were once camp members themselves, and volunteer their time to give back to the community.
This year, camp directors mixed things up and moved KLD to Cooper Park in Mountain View. Previously, the camp was located at Cherry Chase Elementary in Sunnyvale, which was fine until the camp grew to well over 300 kids. Seither said they were really squeezed in at Cherry Chase, and decided to move somewhere bigger. There was a dip in the number of students this year because the time and location of the camp changed, which Seither said threw people off a little bit.
Cooper Park, unlike other locations considered for the move, is close to the border between Mountain View and Sunnyvale, making it accessible to kids from both cities.
Officer Marco Garcia of the Mountain View Police Department said he's worked with the program since its inception. He was the at-risk youth counselor at Graham Middle School at the time, and helped train student volunteer coaches for the camp.
Garcia said soccer is a simple vehicle to reach out to kids, and that the support from the parents has been amazing. He said the camp gives kids to opportunity to be in a quality summer camp that would normally cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000 for only $10, giving more kids access.
Garcia said the camp focuses on kids who are showing at-risk behaviors, like academic trouble, behavioral issues, families with a gang history, broken homes or absent parents.
"It's amazing seeing kids from all walks of life at the camp," Garcia said. "All the different cultures and languages are there."