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Local teens run soccer camp for at-risk youth

 

As the time neared one o'clock, dozens of elementary and middle school students -- all wearing their green and blue camp shirts -- leaped off a school bus and ran onto the fields at Bubb Elementary School.

The enthusiastic kids were taking part in "Kick, Lead and Dream," a free soccer camp for underprivileged youths. Now in its second year, the camp has more than tripled in size, and now the coaches -- most of whom are local high school athletes with a strong social conscience -- are turning to Silicon Valley companies to help fund the two-week program.

The program pairs over 100 mostly Latino campers with 20 coaches to work on soccer and leadership skills. This year the campers and coaches took over the soccer fields for two weeks in late June and early July. The coaches arrived in the morning to plan the day, which normally included drills, the occasional water fight and visits from inspirational speakers.

Akash Nigam, a camp founder who plays for Mountain View High School's varsity soccer team, came up with the idea for the camp over two years ago while trying to combine his two passions: community service and soccer. Several of his soccer buddies joined in last year to start the camp, and with the help of Nigam's dad, an entrepreneur, the students assembled the two-week camp for about 30 students.

"When I got money for my birthday, I would usually give it to my grandma in India, and she would hand it out to the poor," Nigam said. This time, "I wanted to do work for my own community."

Nigam and his three soccer friends -- Robby Gamble, Jordan Coff and Tom Canty -- worked with the Mountain View Police Department's Police Activities League and the elementary school district to find a field and bus. While Nigam and Gamble's parents help pay for the camp, the children do all the hard work, organizers say.

When the camp more than tripled in size this year, with new siblings and friends showing up each day, several of the camp leaders joined forces with another friend, Rohan Weigel, to start a side business, Pizza and Dollars, to help pay for the rising costs.

Although they originally wanted to buy a car with their earnings, the coaches decided there was a better way to spend it.

"We decided we didn't need the car," Nigam said. "We wanted to fund [the camp ourselves."

The students have been running their business in the mornings, and directing the camp in the afternoons, totaling more than a 50-hour work week for some coaches. They say this is especially important since two of the founders' sisters, Sonia Nigam and Allie Gamble, both students at Blach Middle School in Los Altos, started their own camp to work with elementary school campers.

"It was difficult having all the kids in one camp, because they didn't have all the same skills, Sonia said.

The camp has become more than just soccer drills. Campers take breaks for quick water fights, or to participate in raffles to win pro soccer jerseys. Motivational speakers -- Stanford athletes and community leaders -- come talk to the campers.

"The coaches are nice and this place is so fun," said Kevin Herrera, who will start fifth grade at Bubb this fall.

And coaches say the camp has helped them to understand different cultures. Before the camp started, they met with Marco Garcia, the former at-risk intervention supervisor at Graham Middle School, to discuss stereotypes and cultural sensitivity since the campers come from many different backgrounds.

"At school a lot of stereotypes evolve," co-founder Robby Gamble said. "You come here and see they are nice kids, and maybe didn't get as lucky with the situation they were born in."

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