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The Making of a Long Term Partnership Between DC Scores and DC United

Bethany Rubin Henderson, Executive Director, DC SCORES provides an in-depth interview on how an ongoing collaboration with MLS team DC United evolved into a long term partnership. 

DC SCORES’ provides school-based, team-based, whole child programming by delivering free after-school programs and summer camps facilitated by trained youth development professionals — intentionally integrating soccer, poetry, and service-learning to help low-income 3rd-8th graders throughout Washington, DC. DC SCORES began with 15 girls in 1994 and led to the formation of America SCORES that currently supports 13 similar programs in the U.S. and Canada. For more information, go to www.dcscores.org. 

D.C. United is the first franchise awarded by Major League Soccer in 1995. Prior to the formation of the partnership D.C. United had its own Washington, DC community service program, United Soccer Club. For more information, go to www.dcunited.com. 

When was the partnership formed? It came together in the Fall of 2015 to support the 2015 – 2016 school year.

Who within the 2 organizations met to work out the details? Senior management at both DC SCORES and D.C. United were directly involved in establishing the partnership. DC SCORES’ Board of Directors approved the partnership arrangement.

What is the community both organizations are serving? Extreme inequality of opportunity exists for DC schoolchildren. 48% of DC children (~25,000 kids), primarily children of color, live in low-income households, qualify for free or reduced lunch, and attend Title I public schools where 75% of kids are not on grade level in literacy or math.  Nearly 20,000 DC kids are alone/unsupervised in afterschool hours; >70% children grades K-8 would participate in organized afterschool programs if available. A majority of those same children lack access to safe, supervised, team sports. Additionally, DC has the highest percentage of overweight children in the nation and the biggest disparity between races in terms of obesity.  Without opportunities for enrichment, safe places to spend out-of-school hours, physical activity and sports, DC schoolchildren living in neighborhoods characterized by entrenched poverty will continue to fall further behind their peers from more economically flush communities. It is at the core of DC SCORES’ mission and the heart of D.C. United’s community orientation to tackle these inequalities.  After many years of the two organizations working together side-by-side, executives of both determined they could more effectively serve more children and have a greater community impact by working together in a long-term strategic partnership.  

What was each organization doing before the partnership that led both parties to have discussions to form the consolidation between DC Scores and the United Soccer Club? DC SCORES and D.C. United collaborated for years before entering this partnership. For many years, both organizations ran soccer-based programs for low-income DC youth. By consolidating efforts, the organizations dramatically enhanced and extended their shared mission to improve low-income children’s physical fitness and confidence while building literacy, increasing school engagement, and deepening their connections to their community.

Melding DC SCORES’ robust curriculum, 20+ years of on-the-ground, community-based service-provider know-how, and proven impact with D.C. United’s name recognition and soccer resources presented an unprecedented opportunity to benefit young people throughout Washington, D.C.  For example, D.C. United brings soccer expertise, major league experiences to the curriculum, and training opportunities for elite-level underserved youth. DC SCORES’ whole-child curriculum thoughtfully translates lessons learned on the soccer field to the classroom and to life.

What are the specifics of the consolidation -- the roles/support each of the 2 organizations provide? As part of the partnership, the (now-former) D.C. United-operated United Soccer Club (USC) programming was consolidated into DC SCORES.  Instead of only serving several hundred children yearly, the partnership allows D.C. United to now support 2,200 DC schoolchildren at 55 publicly-funded elementary (ES) and middle (MS) school sites and recreation centers in neighborhoods characterized by entrenched poverty. Those children are: primarily between 8-14years old: 56% African-American, 40% Latino, 1% Asian, 1% white (2% identified as “other”); roughly half girls, half boys; ~80% receiving free or reduced lunch. They attend low-performing Title I schools and underserved recreation centers in neighborhoods characterized by entrenched poverty across DC.  Every participant receives a free, DC SCORES / D.C. United co-branded “shoulder-to-shins” soccer kit.

Programming is free, delivered through 12-week fall and spring after-school sessions; 6-week winter after-school programs; and 1-, 2-, and 5-week summer camp sessions. ES programs operate M-F, 3:30-5:30PM; MS three days/week from 3:30-6:30PM. The whole-child-focused curriculum includes a robust soccer league experience, including tournaments and championship series (fall/winter/spring/summer); 180 minutes/week writing original poetry culminating in a citywide youth poetry slam (fall - click here for local CBS news coverage 2016 slam); and 180 minutes/week service-learning (spring).

DC SCORES-run summer camps mirror pay-to-play elite soccer or typical suburban (sports/arts/swimming) camps. D.C. United also provides scholarships to its own elite youth soccer camps for DC SCORES participants showing great soccer promise.  D.C. United also provides free game day tickets and experiences for DC SCORES youth participants and coaches, who may not normally be able to afford it.

Programming is team-based and school-based, not a la carte. Every child plays soccer with their team, writes/performs original poetry with their team, and designs/executes local service projects with their team.  Coaches are community members whom DC SCORES pays and trains in positive youth development and its curriculum.

About 75% of coaches are schoolteachers or support staff doing their “second shift” with DC SCORES. However, to facilitate a smooth program consolidation, DC SCORES hired United Soccer Club coaches into its' coaching pool, provides all coaches 17hrs+/yr training, and hired a longtime USC coach onto staff to support soccer operations. United players like goalie Travis Worra visit schools, run clinics, and inspire participants. The D.C. United youth coaching staff helps train all coaches, elevating quality of play for all involved.

How has the partnership benefited the community serving? Our partnership already has resulted in more children of all ages and capabilities participating in DC SCORES’ programs than either organization could or did serve alone.  During the 2016-2017 school year, more than 2,200 children will participate in DC SCORES.  

Already, because of the partnership, players, the team's fan base and the greater DC community are more aware of DC SCORES, the unmet community need, and D.C. United's community impact - resulting in new community-driven financial and volunteer support for DC SCORES and increased team loyalty. Examples include:

Wells Fargo Saves for SCORES (http://www.dcunited.com/post/2016/03/02/dc-united-and-wells-fargo-raise-money-dc-scores);

Screaming Eagles Supporters Club fundraiser (https://m.facebook.com/events/1729708677316345/);
Petworth News coverage (http://www.petworthnews.org/blog/petworth-news-partners-dc-scores); and

Harris' Heroes (http://wjla.com/features/harris-heroes/dc-scores-afterschool-program-combines-soccer-poetry-community-service-year-round).

In addition DC SCORES is leveraging this increase coverage to improve their fund raising efforts on their web site and Facebook for Giving Tuesday - the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving. 

How will each party determine the partnership's success – what are the quantitative/qualitative metrics being used to determine success? By consolidating efforts, overnight the organizations dramatically enhanced and extended their shared mission to improve low-income children’s physical fitness and confidence while building literacy, increasing school engagement, and deepening their connections to their community. Our shared goal is to continue to increase the number of children impacted each year.  

Participants realize statistically significant improvement from the beginning of programming to the end in both endurance and fitness, and report positive school engagement and social-emotional health markers. 2015-16 program year evaluation results show statistically significant health improvements: 70% of participants improved their BMI percentile, 83% improved aerobic capacity, and 88% do more schoolwork.

Participants also report significant prosocial gains, e.g.:

• 99% are confident of graduating high school

• 96% discovered something they are good at

• 95% understand importance of respecting others, and

• 89% feel like a role model to other students.

Parents affirm the impact and that it extends to families: "Being in a safe environment with less hostile situations is a blessing." "[My child] believes in himself." "It gets us involved as a family." A survey of our 2015-16 season coaches (75% of whom are schoolteachers or school support staff doing their "second shift" with us) demonstrates the impact goes far beyond individual participants to entire school communities. Coaches report that DC SCORES made a positive impact on coaches' ability to engage students (97%), their school's culture (86%), students' connection to school (95%), students’ physical fitness (99%), and coaches' connection to the school community (96%).

Does this partnership provide a model for other SCORES affiliates to form similar partnerships with other professional soccer clubs where geographically appropriate? It certainly could. MLS clubs are always looking for ways to expand their footprint in the community, and partnerships like the one we’ve formed provide an easy way to do this, especially for clubs that don’t have a lot of departmental resources. DC SCORES and D.C. United have been able to do more together in the first year of this partnership than either could do alone because our partnership leverages each organization's core expertise.  Our organizations' years of working together on aligned community goals laid the groundwork for a trusting partnership. Including D.C. United designees as DC SCORES Board members (with all the same responsibilities as other Board members) ensures that trust and transparency will continue for decades to come.  Executives in both organizations are working together to ensure that both organizations' full staff also feel ownership of the partnership and understand how to help each other realize business objectives.

Final Thoughts This is a long-term strategic partnership focused on dramatically enhancing and extending both organizations’ shared mission to improve low-income children’s physical fitness and confidence while building literacy, increasing school engagement, and deepening their connections to their community.   Check out the announcement Press Release: http://www.dcunited.com/post/2015/09/30/united-soccer-club-consolidates-dc-scores