Des Moines organization making youth sports accessible

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Studies have shown that children who play sports are more likely to lead happy and healthy lives, but not all children have access to this opportunity.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Win or lose, playing sports can be hugely beneficial for kids.

Studies have shown that children who play sports are more likely
lead a happy and healthy life. But not all children have access to this opportunity, especially those from low-income households.

“The benefits of playing sports are many.
From a health perspective, it’s one way to keep kids physically active.
Being part of a team helps them develop friendships [and] trust
and shows them how to work with others,” said Jon Solomon, editorial director of the sports and society program at the Aspen Institute.

All of these things are important to a child’s development, but some children miss out because they simply can’t afford to participate.

“The cost can be incredibly difficult,” Solomon said. “Transportation can be a major problem to be able to get to practices and matches.”

According to the Aspen Institute, children from low-income households
are about half as likely to participate in sports as children
from high-income households.

“Also, if you come from a low-income household, there’s a greater chance that you have a single-parent household or have two working parents who work very hard or work late in the day. So a lot of ‘Kids have really been priced out of youth sports,’ Solomon said.

He says the rise of traveling teams has played a role in driving up the cost of youth sports.

“So what’s happened is it’s really created this divide further and further, weakening local recreation-based recreation programs. And [it’s] a great challenge, but also an opportunity for local community play is to provide quality and affordable local opportunities for these children, because we leave behind so many children who simply cannot afford to ‘go the travel sports route,’ Salomon says.

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Des Moines Parks and Recreation has found a way to try to close that gap.

In 2020, they partnered with Des Moines Public Schools to launch a scholarship program.

“We had just seen from our numbers and working with the school system that kids just couldn’t afford to play sports, so what we wanted to do was make sure they were affordable” , said Jennifer Fletcher, marketing supervisor for Des Moines Parks and Recreation. .

The program allows DMPS students who qualify for free and reduced meals to sign up to enroll in Parks and Rec youth swim sports and lessons for just $5.

They also partnered with Friends of Des Moines Parks for the Every Kid Gets a Ball program.

“Not only do we involve the kids in the programs, we give them the equipment they can actually use,” she said.

Last year, 10,000 children were enrolled in the scholarship program, marking a huge victory to make youth sports more affordable and accessible.

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