Non-Profit of the Year Nominee
Submitted by: Bethany Rubin Henderson
1. What is your mission and vision?
DC SCORES was founded in 1994 by a DCPS teacher to meet the needs of 15 girls with limited after-school options. Bonds between teammates built on the field forged a supportive community for poetry -- which, in turn, built a forum for self-expression. Leadership developed through healthy competition prepared students to act as community change agents. Soccer, poetry, and service-learning fueled body, mind, and heart, building a unique model. Today, 13 affiliates form a national network under America SCORES, which spun off in 1999. Now the official charity partner of D.C. United, DC SCORES serves 2000 children at 50 sites.
Mission: The mission of DC SCORES is to build teams for low-income DC youth by instilling self-expression, physical fitness, and a sense of community. DC SCORES accomplishes its mission through a holistic model which engages the whole child through poetry, soccer, and service-learning--and creates supportive teams rooted in local school communities.
Vision: DC SCORES tackles the cycle of poverty through a simple, yet holistic innovation - supportive, school-based teams that both complement school day experiences and fill critical gaps. Our coaches, parents, and school administrators routinely tell us that being on a DC SCORES team is an honor at their elementary and middle schools. Wearing a DC SCORES uniform confers a positive social status on kids who are regularly attending school, visibly getting fit, publicly expressing themselves, and taking on active leadership roles. We leverage this community pride to reinforce the core values (teamwork, leadership, commitment), skills (e.g. resilience, collaboration, executive function, literacy) and practices (e.g. making healthy choices, sportsmanship) of our curricula not just with the children we serve, but within their families, schools, and communities.
2. How does your organization achieve its mission?
DC SCORES runs free afterschool programs and summer camps at 50 public and public charter schools and rec centers in neighborhoods characterized by entrenched poverty. Our whole-child curriculum intentionally integrates sports (soccer), arts (poetry/spoken word) and service as vehicles to build skills essential to future academic and professional success: teamwork, leadership, and commitment. What's unique about our programming is that it's not a la carte and it's not individual. Each season, we build teams of 32-40 students at each site. The entire team together participates in all program aspects. Soccer-loving students end up on stage reciting their own poems; and community service lovers end up scoring their first goal, with the same team of peers encouraging them along the way. Moreover, we hire and train teachers from students’ own school communities to coach our teams. This model ensures students build relationships with adult mentors from their own community, reinforces trust and relationships built on and off the field, and deepens ties between and among students, families, and schools.
As a result, children stay in our program from grades 3-8, and their siblings follow suit, with community-wide benefits that deepen over the years. Built around our core values of teamwork, leadership, and commitment, our curriculum prioritizes the “soft skills” critical for success in school and life alongside “hard skills.” Soccer sessions combine nutrition with technical skills and tactical strategy. Poetry sessions combine self-expression, emotional risk-taking, writing, and performance. Service-learning sessions build executive function and foster civic participation; standout projects last year included Thomson’s petition to stop wildlife crime; and Brightwood’s random acts of kindness campaign. We build all the infrastructure necessary to make these robust experiences possible: we run DC's largest public school soccer leagues and host the city's largest youth poetry slam.
3. How have your programs directly impacted the regional community?
Low-income children like those we serve are more likely to drop out of high school and to enter the workforce without high school or college degrees, negatively impacting their ability to achieve economic self-sufficiency. They also are more likely be obese and to lack opportunities for physical fitness, which negatively impacts not only health but also academic achievement. Well over half of their parents tell us that no other organized sports teams options are available for their children. DC SCORES bridges the gap between opportunities that exist for students in more affluent areas and the communities we serve, addressing core factors which predict students most at risk for dropping out: poor attendance; social isolation/negative peer influence; and a lack of extracurricular activities.
Our program requires that students attend school in order to participate; connects youth to a supportive school-based community; and provides fun, structured, holistic programming that develops both hard skills (e.g. literacy) and critical soft skills (leadership, collaboration, persistence).We provide students with over 90 hours of academics and 120 hours of physical activity each year. Thanks to DC SCORES, our participants report positive school engagement markers like a sense of belonging and a belief in academic self-competency; and realize statistically significant improvements in physical fitness -- all of which will positively impact academic and career success. For outcomes stats and the stories behind them, see www.dcscoresimpact.org
4. What inspires or drives your team to stay committed to your mission?
Our team is passionate about the kids and communities we serve and results-oriented, but what keeps our team engaged year after year is relationships. The relationships they build with kids, and the relationships we build across our team. Our small office team of 12 visit schools regularly, staff soccer game days weekly, and participate in all 5 major program events each year. Our nearly 200 coaches coach in the schools and communities where they teach or work during the day. Being out in the field so much allows office staff to see and feel our impact firsthand, while building trusting relationships with children in our program, their families, and coaches. Working in their own schools and communities reinforces coaches’ community connections, enhances their relationships with students and families, and creates positive effects that ripple throughout the entire school environment. Many children and their families stay in touch with us and coaches long after aging out of DC SCORES. Our team beams with pride when talking about 3rd graders they connected with who are now in high school, or a troubled middle schooler they got to know who is now a college sophomore. Fundamentally, DC SCORES believes that strong teams lead to strong results -- and great staff retention (our full staff has an average tenure of three years, and our management has an average tenure of six years). Building strong organizational culture is critical for any organization. But for DC SCORES, team-building is closely aligned to our organization’s mission and programmatic work: training school-day teachers as coaches and helping them build a supportive team culture that fosters mutual trust and risk-taking, and new kinds of relationships with and amongst children. Therefore, we invest heavily in non-cognitive areas of talent development -- such as staff relationships and emotional quotient (EQ) skills -- alongside hard skill development. Examples of successful team-building investments include: weekly Salad Bar lunches (staff are encouraged to eat together in a potluck that embodies our mission of instilling healthy lifestyles); weekly Coffee Fixes (staff are encouraged to walk en masse to get coffee --building relationships and getting us up on our feet in homage to our fitness mission); and all-staff breakfasts at a local diner to kick off each season.
5. What advice would you give to other nonprofits trying to make an impact in their community?
Pay attention to the details. DC SCORES is able to provide low-income students with high-quality sports, arts, and service experiences that mirror those taken for granted by peers in higher-income areas because we pay attention and excel at the details. Our 22 years of experience have taught us that we cannot assume even seemingly-basic community assets (regularly mown school fields, for example) will be available. So, we are now a logistics and operations shop behind the scenes, which allows us to directly control the factors that lead to program success, including: field lining and maintenance; direct hiring and training of coaches; provision of soccer balls, uniform kits, and writing supplies to every participant; game-day and tournament transportation and food for players and families. Internally, as well, paying close attention to the details allows our programs to operate against an organizational backdrop of unwavering competence and trust - which allows the extraordinary connections we make between and within youth teams and their teacher-coaches and communities to shine. For example, we recently streamlined paperwork and data collection by shifting to online systems for coach management, evaluation, and billing/payroll. As a result, our ability to assess program quality and support coaches in real time across our citywide pool of participants and sites is at an all-time high.