Through a new program at Park View Community Mission, Lynchburg community leaders are stepping up to the plate to deliver sporting goods and apparel to city children in need.
The Lynchburg Sports Locker, located inside Park View, is a partnership among LAYSI — the Lynchburg Area Youth Sports Initiative — the University of Lynchburg and Park View to deliver all kinds of sports equipment for children who otherwise may not have the opportunity to acquire it.
Todd Olsen, head women’s soccer coach at the University of Lynchburg and an integral player in the partnership, said the rising cost of sports equipment is a huge obstacle for area children trying to get into sports.
“I recently purchased a pair of soccer cleats for my daughter and they were $160,” Olsen said. “If somebody is in poverty, there is no way they can afford that kind of thing.”
Olsen said the inspiration came from similar “clothes closets,” where people in need can get clothing items they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.
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When Todd Blake took over as the executive director of Park View Missions last year, the idea stood out to him as an easy opportunity for Park View to expand its missions beyond their traditional services.
“The ability to provide this opportunity for more kids just really appealed to me,” Blake said, “and for us here, it’s also another way for us to serve our neighbors.”
While Park View houses the project in their facilities, Blake credited the work of Olsen’s women’s soccer team and other athletes at UL with really getting the project off the ground.
“If you think about the time constraints on a college athlete between education, training, games, and then adding onto that by pouring into the community … that just speaks very highly of all the athletes involved,” Blake said. “They put themselves into this. It has their stamps all over it.”
Local children can make an appointment or be recommended to visit the locker and have a one-on-one experience with an athlete from UL, according to Olsen.
Through that, he is hoping they could develop a mentorship where the child and the athlete can connect over similar interests, and maybe even motivate the child to “aspire for bigger things.”
In the future, they will be hosting equipment drives to collect as many items needed to keep the locker filled. They will also accept regular donations for the locker.
While there are needs for equipment across all sports, Olsen specifically mentioned things like cleats, baseball gloves, and football and lacrosse gear, all of which can be a burden for children getting into the sport, are the items they are looking to get in the locker.
The mission’s goal, according to Blake, is to break down the barriers that exist for these children, giving them equal opportunity to play the sports they love.
“It’s not just a one-and-done visit, not just, ‘Here’s a pair of shoes,’” Blake said, “but a conversation about what’s best. And maybe that develops into a mentor relationship which is a tremendous piece for us.”
To find out more information about the partnership, visit LAYSI.org. The group says it hopes to have an application on its website in the near future.