Akash Nigam invented the camp as a way to engage youngsters in a variety of soccer drills and games aimed at fostering a competitive atmosphere while instilling the kids with the importance of teamwork, leadership and integrity. The campers, all fifth to eighth graders from underprivileged Mountain View families, were mentored and coached by their high school partners, who served as positive role models for the pre-teens.
The camp singled out youths who might otherwise be drawn into gang violence and crime, organizers said, keeping them on the field and off the streets. Nigam, a local soccer standout and competitor in the district Olympic Development League, worked in collaboration with the Mountain View Police Activities League (PAL), the Mountain View Los Altos Soccer Club, and Mesa de la Comunidad.
PAL, which seeks to further friendship and understanding between police and at-risk youth, served as an umbrella organization for the camp, incorporating it into its "Dreams and Futures" program. The organization was instrumental in securing playing fields and identifying children who might benefit from the program.
With the backing of these groups and help from some friends, Nigam recruited notable guest speakers, including Officer Fernando Maldonado of the Mountain View Police Department; coach Carlos Schulze, a former member of the Chilean soccer team; and David Murillo, the former captain of the Mission College soccer team. Mayor Laura Macias and Police Chief Scott Vermeer spoke at the closing ceremonies.
Nigam said it wasn't difficult to recruit speakers or to find sponsorship. "It's for a good cause and everyone wants to be a part of that," he said.
Nigam said he's attended quite a few soccer camps, and thought this would be a great way to reach out to underprivileged kids in the local community. "The kids we got were all classified as 'at-risk,'" he said. "A lot of these kids have been arrested already. ... Their parents aren't usually at home, so they're living on their own, getting involved with gangs. That's a tough environment to be in."
Nigam ran the camp with fellow high schoolers Robby Gamble, Jordan Coff, Tom Canty and Ashley Crist. The teens worked full days, setting up goal lines in the morning, running the camp in the afternoon, and cleaning up in the evenings. Despite the long hours, the teens found their work rewarding.
"I think our expectations going in were just blown away," Nigam said. "I definitely want to do it again next year. Next year we're going to do a little more planning and expand it, add more coaches into the mix, and hopefully get an overall better camp."
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