Fifteen years ago, Darius Shirzadi, Peter Whealton, and Javier Centeno started Project GOAL to help young children achieve their academic and athletic dreams. Today, the organization is still up and running, but this dedicated group of staff and volunteers has made it their mission to become more than just about school and sports. Coach Bryce DuBois says that Project GOAL is striving to become more socially aware and inclusive, and help kids grow into their identities.
The acronym GOAL stands for Greater Opportunity for Athletes to Learn. And learn they do. The program is targeted towards children between fifth and tenth grade. Each year, kids are bussed from the Central Falls and Providence area twice a week after their regular school day to Calcutt Middle School (Fall/Winter) and Moses Brown (Spring) for an hour-and-a-half of tutoring. The classrooms are supervised by certified teachers, and supported by volunteers, who are usually men’s and women’s soccer players from Providence College and Brown University. After their academic session, they train with licensed soccer coaches, which Bryce says is a great way to incentivize learning.
Recently, Project GOAL was offered the opportunity for two coaches to receive training to help the program to become a more LGBT+-inclusive safe space, both on and off the soccer field. The program belongs to StreetFootballWorld, an international network of organizations that operate on the “soccer for good” mission. Through the coalition, Project GOAL was invited by the Play Proud initiative to participate in a year-long fellowship that trains staff on how to create safe spaces for all of their athletes.
Says Bryce, “The goal of our program is to be inclusive and support young people. They’re also developing their identities...” He emphasizes that this training allows mentors to empower their athletes to accept their identities during crucial stages of development.