Every child deserves a chance to play youth sports; to be a part of a team; to experience the joy of winning, and even the valuable learning lessons in picking yourself up after a loss.
Every child deserves an opportunity to learn all the invaluable teachings in life that sports teaches them, and to get outside, get active, and be healthy. Unfortunately, the reality for some kids in Northwest Indiana is these opportunities of playing youth sports stays just a dream due to their families not being able to afford it.
But the City of Hammond is striving to change this reality through the Hammond Citywide Youth Sports Program that distributes vouchers to financially eligible youth, ages 5-18, which allow them to play up to five sports a year without the worry of whether they can afford to or not.
And it’s these little vouchers that are making a big difference in the lives of youth, Director Cynthia Rangel says.
“I have seen many Hammond families so happy that their children receive the voucher because it allows them to participate in activities they could not otherwise afford,” Rangel told IIMM. “The children are learning sportsmanship, discipline, getting exercise, and it keeps them active.”
The program started in 2010 through Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. and the Community Development Block Grant Funds, and today it is doing a lot of great things for a lot of great kids throughout the city.
“Every year we assist at least 300 children with registration and equipment fees,” Rangel added.
One of those children is Hayleigh Rodriguez, a 5-year old from Hammond whose love of basketball and golf would have not manifested into the opportunity to play without the voucher program.
“My daughter loves basketball,” Hayleigh’s father, Manuel Rodriguez, said. “When we went to visit Cynthia in the Hammond office, she told us she had basketball vouchers and golf vouchers, too. Hayleigh really wanted to play golf, so we thought we would go ahead and give it a try.”
What Hayleigh and Manuel learned is that Hayleigh had a natural knack for the game of golf. She was so good at it in fact, she won first place in the first competition she entered at Lost Marsh Golf Course.
And while the trophy was a nice reward for the day, Manuel says it’s the joy that playing the game brings to his daughter, and the opportunity to play through the voucher program, that provide the lifelong happiness.
“I am a single father, and I am disabled,” Manuel told IIMM. “I have been raising her by myself since she was two weeks old, and her happiness is my priority. Seeing my daughter out there on the course, happy, makes me the happiest man in the world.”
Every child who wants to play youth sports deserves a chance at this happiness, too. And if the City of Hammond has their way, the kids of Hammond will.