Local couple aims to help low-income children

ENCINITAS — As Los Angelitos de Encinitas begins its third school year, co-founders Bill Sparks and wife Sarah Garfield have learned that the program has been honored as a recipient of a $4,000 award from the city of Encinitas and Mizel Family Foundation Community Grant Program.
In addition, the nonprofit was selected as one of the three Mentoring Excellence Award finalists for the InvestmentNews and Invest in Others Community Leadership Awards to be held in New York City on Sept. 14.
Sparks and Garfield started the program in fall 2008 to help low-income children in Encinitas gain access to participation in youth sports, affordable after-school care and academic assistance.
“Since our first child entered the local public school we have continually noticed the inequity of opportunities made available to low-income children,” Sparks said. “These children are failing academically and are at risk for childhood obesity, teen pregnancy and gang violence. They are also at risk for being undereducated and ill prepared to compete in the global economy of the 21st century. The majority, but not all, of these children at our school are Hispanic.”
Specifically, the grant will be used to underwrite a portion of the costs to enable 130 kids to participate in the Encinitas Soccer League for the Fall 2010 soccer season. To enable more children to participate, the league has reduced their cost.
Other support has come from local business owners and groups including: Hugo’s Automotive, Juanita’s Taco Shop, Leucadia Liquor, The Encinitas Rotary Club and the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA.
“Outside the community we have had donations from AT&T, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, BlackRock Financial Management, Qualcomm, Wachovia, Google, Chevron, the San Diego Soccers and Scripps Hospital,” Garfield said. “We have had some fantastic help from dads that coached the Angelitos kids in the past and then remained engaged with the ‘cause.’ One of these, John Earnhart, is now a board member.”
Ultimately, Sparks and Garfield would like to expand the program from Paul Ecke Central School to include Ocean Knoll and, in time, middle and high schools in the city.
“By partnering with other local organizations it has helped bring the cost down and make the programs feasible for us to sponsor more low-income families,” Garfield said.
The program has bridged the cultural gap by attracting both Hispanic and non-Hispanic coaches and players.
“Two years ago at the YMCA Challenge Soccer among fifth- and sixth-graders from Paul Ecke Central School, the only non-Hispanic boy was my son,” Sparks said. “Now we have five new non-Hispanic coaches with their sons, and one new Hispanic coach with his son. This brings classmates together as they learn respect for each other.”
The after-school program is held for two hours on Fridays at the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA. It is made available exclusively through in-kind donations from the YMCA.
The Sea Lion Academy provides homework assistance to children at Paul Ecke Central School by high school students and community volunteers. The program is held for an hour after school. The cost is $5 per child receiving free and reduced lunches or who are classified as Title 1, a federal program designed to bridge the gap between low-income students and other students. Other children can participate at a cost of $40.
Later in the semester children will be given an opportunity to participate in Class Act, a music and fine arts program that connects local schools with those in developing countries.
“People are seeing the value of the program.” Sparks said. “My hope is that Encinitas will support the effort and recognize how good it is for the community at large.”
For more information, contact Sparks or Garfield at bsleucadia@hotmail.com or via phone at (760) 943-9523.

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