Elm City Internationals (ECI) uses soccer to engage low-income youth (mostly immigrant and refugees) with academic enrichment, college counseling and mentoring services. The end goal is for all of our students to attend and graduate from college.
The inspiration for Elm City Internationals came about when its founder, Lauren, worked as a teacher through a refugee agency and encountered 4, 7th grade boys who struggled academically and behaviorally. In the spring of 2007, Lauren started a soccer team and found that these 4 boys were phenomenal soccer players and gained confidence on the soccer field. These young men also began to respect their coach, Lauren, and would seek her out after class and request additional help on their homework. Within months, these boys who had been at risk of not passing 7th grade became honor roll students.
With her four former students in mind, Lauren founded ECI in 2008. These four students were ECI’s first members along with nine other middle school students who enjoyed soccer but needed access to educational opportunities.
Since 2008, ECI has followed one cohort of boys from the time that they were in 7th and 8th grade. These young men are now freshman and sophomores in college. ECI’s student-athletes have all earned either partial or full athletic and academic scholarships to college. In 2012 ECI initiated its own scholarship fund to fill in financial gaps for all students to ensure that they all are able to attend college. ECI’s second year college students have been very successful academically and athletically and ECI’s first year college students are now following in their footsteps.
Core Components of ECI
ECI pairs soccer with academic services and mentoring to low-income students in New Haven. The concept of ECI is fairly simple. Since soccer is considered “the international sport” and is enjoyed by young men around the world, ECI uses soccer as a lure to create a supportive learning community for low-income adolescent boys (predominantly immigrant and refugee boys) who live in New Haven and thrive on the soccer field, but require extra academic assistance. The end goal is for all the boys to realize their potential, be provided with strong academic foundations and ultimately graduate from college.
Elm City Internationals provides the boys with:
-In 2016 ECI's eldest cohort of students who entered ECI in 2008 when they were in 8th grade graduated from college. 100% of the students in that initial cohort graduated college within 4.5 years of graduating high school.
-In June of 2016 ECI expanded our program and began to welcome students as young as 5th grade into our program. Students now have the opportunity to be engaged in our college readiness programming for 12 years (5th grade through college graduation). By exposing students to the reading and writing enrichment program portion of our College Readiness Academy at a younger age, ECI is ensuring that students are more adequately prepared to succeed at competitive colleges and universities.
I am a founding board member of Elm City Internationals and, in fact, worked with the Executive Director on the viability assessment before she launched the organization. The successes are directly attributable to the unwavering commitment of Lauren Mednick and her band of volunteers: many of whom have also been involved in the organization since launch. ECI is a high touch, high impact organization with the goal of shepherding at risk young men to and through college: all indications are that we will see a 100% success rate with the first cohort. With the second cohort, it has been rewarding to see how Lauren has expanded our footprint of colleges by forging relationships with soccer programs at more and more universities. Several of our boys have received full scholarships and others generous financial aid that allowed our organization to bridge the tuition gap. Using feedback from the first cohort and advice from education experts, we have refined the academic program to be even more effective for the second and pipeline cohorts.
ECI faces the challenges faced by many non-profit organizations: funding our future operating budget. While we are fortunate to have several perennial donors, our board maintains a program of active outreach to foundations and individuals so that we can continue to build awareness of ECI and expand our donor base.
After eight years, I am still involved with this organization because I have been inspired by watching these boys grow into incredible and thoughtful young men. I also see great opportunity to scale the program that Lauren has built to impact even more children in our community.
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Educate a child and you change a community. For the child, a good education means better career opportunities and higher lifetime earnings. College graduates enjoy better health and are more inclined to volunteer and vote. For the community, supporting our youths’ educational goals results in a stronger society.
When families, schools and communities take the view that children and youth are valued and respected assets to society, they necessarily support environments that nurture youth development. Children raised to embrace positive social values, to seek self-understanding, and to value their self-worth grow to become community-minded young adults with a sense of belonging and a belief in their resiliency. See how you can help our community's children grow into tomorrow's leaders.
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