New Dimensions football helps low-income children in St. Louis
For 17 years, New Dimensions has provided low-income children in the St. Louis area with something their affluent peers take for granted: access to football. The non-profit organization has provided countless children, many of them refugees and immigrants, with a high quality football program – for free.
Tom Michler, the organization’s co-founder, says the focus is on the football, but the game is a way to deliver so much more.
“It’s really about using a sport to connect with kids and then do more — mentorship and life skills,” he said. “And a lot of those life skills, those teachings, happen spontaneously.”
During a May 7 New Dimensions practice at McKinley Practice Field, St. Louis resident Patricia Thompson called New Dimensions a “wonderful community.”
As a single parent raising two foster children, Thompson said the interaction between coaches and his foster sons keeps them coming back every Saturday.
“For example, today the coach had asked if my eldest son, Enzie, would be able to drive the tractor and mow the field, which is a huge boost for an adopted boy’s ego. All the coaches interact with them that way,” she said.
For Nadia Soudani, who emigrated from Lebanon to Saint-Louis five months ago, New Dimensions offers her family a place to bond in the city.
“It’s good to have a group activity with the children, especially [since] we don’t know a lot of people in St. Louis,” she said.
Many parents at the Saturday practice cited the diversity of New Dimensions attendees as the main reason they stay involved. It’s music to the ears of Michler, who formed the band with that value in mind.
“We want to bring all the children together, but really [try] to focus on kids who otherwise just wouldn’t have the opportunity,” he said.
When Michler started the program in 2005, he said he saw it as a way to not only expose his own kids to people from diverse backgrounds, “but also give kids who were new to St. , something to do as a means of assimilating into the culture”.
New Dimensions currently offers practices for children ages 5-12 every Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. from April to September. The cost is free and there is no registration.
“Get out when you can; we are happy when you are here,” he said. “If you can’t, try to come back soon.”
Parents are encouraged to stay and watch, and there are prizes and hot dogs for the kids after practice.
After September, they offer a structured league. “In the fall, we will play our league which will have a registration, a schedule, [and] you will have an opponent,” he said.
Michler is also working with New Dimensions employees and volunteers on a program that would follow two-year-olds through post-secondary education.
Monroe Smith, a St. Louis resident and longtime football referee, who develops the program with Michler, calls it “a life skills program with football as a hook.”
“[Once] we have a brain that has the ability to regulate itself,” Smith said, “[then] we focus on academics and say, ‘Okay, how do you study? What are you doing? How are you progressing in school?
Tom Michler talks about New Dimensions on St. Louis on the Air
The program would then stay in touch with children from elementary through high school and beyond, and provide them with access to a community for guidance and mentorship.
“We try to create an environment where they feel valued,” Michler said. “If we can have that as a theme throughout the program, helping kids make choices that work for them, [and] if we can create supportive micro-communities around children, then they will be successful.
What: Spring Saturday Soccer
When: 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays from April to September
Where: McKinley Practice Field (2141 Allen Ave. St. Louis, MO 63104)
What: Beyond the after-school soccer program
When: 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays
Where: Gene Slay Girls & Boys Club of St. Louis (2524 S 11th St, St. Louis, MO 63104)
“Saint Louis live” tells you the stories of Saint-Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenské and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The sound engineer is Aaron Dorr.