Soccer fans believe that soccer makes life better, creating a universal language and a camaraderie from a sport known and cherished throughout the world.
4ATX Foundation takes the idea of soccer as a force for good, and applies it to making Austin a better place. Very simply, 4ATX Foundation is the nonprofit arm of Austin FC, out there, right now, doing good work to benefit the community in Austin and across Central Texas long before Austin FC takes the pitch.
The Foundation’s mission states, “4ATX Foundation seeks to close the opportunity gap and create Austin’s next generation of leaders by providing access to youth development opportunities on and off the pitch.” What that means in 4ATX Foundation’s work goes beyond giving kids a chance to play soccer, into what “beautiful” means when people call it “the beautiful game.”
“We're using the power of soccer to create Austin’s next generation of leaders,” explained Kaitlin Swarts, the Club’s Vice President of Community Impact and Executive Director of 4ATX Foundation. As she explained, 4ATX Foundation engages youth at three different stages of their lives, weaving soccer into the interactions to help them develop leadership qualities.
In Stage One, the Foundation works with elementary school kids. “It's all about growing participation in the game, whether it's providing scholarships so that kids can play club soccer for free, attending soccer camps or participating in free community clinics throughout Austin,” Swarts noted.
The Stage One work includes creating safe new spaces for kids to play - revitalizing existing soccer fields or building new mini-pitches. The Wooldridge School Park mini-pitch, which the 4ATX Foundation unveiled Oct. 24 in conjunction with St. David’s HealthCare and a group of other project partners, is a prime example of how the nonprofit is “removing barriers so that more kids can access the game, participate in playing soccer, and experience the joy of playing and learning from the game.”
In Stage Two, 4ATX Foundation is working with middle and high school-aged participants in a program that, as Swarts noted, “combines soccer with social and emotional learning, Restorative Practices, and mindfulness. It’s about helping kids develop the skills that they need to be successful in the classroom, on the soccer pitch, and in life.” The program, called Verde Leaders, involves mentors and engages the students in free after-school and weekend sessions.
For the uninitiated, mindfulness is a critical skill that helps students handle emotions and face challenges by training the mind to be present, focused, and calm. Across the country, schools and youth organizations utilize Restorative Practices, an Indigenous approach to community-building that empowers students to create authentic relationships focused on empathy, accountability, and respect. Swarts notes that 4ATX Foundation is blazing trails by bringing social and emotional learning, Restorative Practices, and mindfulness to youth soccer.
Stage Three targets students after they graduate high school and will involve building out a fellowship program for first-generation college students, which will include a rotating internship with Austin FC and Founding Partner Netspend and workshops designed to promote college and career readiness. “4ATX Foundation seeks to create opportunities that plug kids into different networks and community supports to help them transition into young adulthood and find success in their lives,” Swarts said of this final phase.
4ATX Foundation began in the spring of 2019 with more than $1 million in seed money from the Precourt Family Foundation. Anthony Precourt, Founder, Majority Owner and Chief Executive Officer of Austin FC, and his wife Agatha are involved in the ongoing work of 4ATX Foundation, with Anthony serving as Board President and Agatha serving as a Board Member.
“It’s amazing looking back at how 4ATX Foundation started, under the leadership of Agatha and Anthony,” Swarts remarked. “Two years before Austin FC will kick off the Club’s first match, they were already out there doing incredible work in the community.” She listed several examples of what’s happened so far: Donating $500,000 to Foundation Communities to support their affordable housing work, running 10 free soccer clinics in 2019 involving more than 700 children from low-income families across Austin, providing more than $15,000 in soccer equipment to help grow the game in Central Texas, and investing $20,000 to fund scholarships for Capital Area Youth Soccer Association (CAYSA) players to further assist their development.
Swarts joined 4ATX Foundation in February 2020, brought on to develop a strategic plan to help focus the nonprofit on “those areas that we really want to move the needle against in the community.” Prior to joining, she started and oversaw Upper Ninety, an Austin-based nonprofit focusing on positive youth development for low and middle-income high school students. When she onboarded with Austin FC, Upper Ninety — under the new name Verde Leaders — became part of 4ATX Foundation.
As she notes, the 4ATX Foundation and Upper Ninety were similarly aligned, and coordinating efforts made sense. “Anthony has a vision for harnessing the power of soccer to really affect positive change in the Austin community,” she noted. “And I think he saw the work that we were doing with Upper Ninety, and knew that with Austin FC’s platform, we could continue this work, reach more kids, and do more good in the community.”
While she acknowledged that 2020 has presented challenges in the form of the coronavirus pandemic, she also pointed out, “It's brought a new level of innovation and creativity” to the Foundation’s approach.
“Even though we aren't able to have large gatherings and run programs the way we would normally want to, we've still found creative ways to impact the community,” she added — be that the Wooldridge School Park mini-pitch where kids can gather in small groups to play soccer, or the Verde Leaders program, which took its curriculum online and involved Austin FC Academy players in smaller, more socially-distanced versions of soccer-based sessions.
“Everything 4ATX Foundation has been able to accomplish so far is just the beginning. We are building something special, and I think it gives people hope,” she asserted. “We're all in this together, we’re going to get through this together, and when we do, we will have this amazing stadium, team, and a Club that cares about showing up for all of Austin. We are excited to see how 4ATX Foundation will shape our community and play a part in developing Austin’s future leaders.”