25 Jan 2023

Project Goal

Josh Pereira


A local organization is using soccer as a vehicle to educate and uplift youth from underserved communities in Rhode Island – and has been doing so for nearly 20 years.

Project GOAL (Greater Opportunity for Athletes to Learn) is a free after-school program that combines academics and athletics, using soccer as a vehicle to promote the importance of education and life skills. The nonprofit’s mission is to develop Rhode Island’s underserved, inner city youth through after-school tutoring, health education, and soccer-related programs. The program incorporates 90 minutes of classroom time with educators followed by 90 minutes of soccer with instructors.

Project GOAL has been held in Central Falls’ Calcutt Middle School for the last 19 years. Now, with support from the Papitto Opportunity Connection, the organization recently expanded to Providence and has been implemented at Alfred Lima Elementary School.

Since Project GOAL was established nearly 20 years ago by co-founders Shirzadi, Peter Wheaton and Javier Centeno, more than 1,700 youth have participated in the program, including Damian Rivera of the New England Revolution. Not all go on to play soccer, but most go on to college – that’s a goal (no pun intended). Of all those who have participated in PG, 96% have gone to college. (90% are first-generation college students).

Miguel A. Lara grew up in Pawtucket and participated in Project GOAL. He would go on to attend Clark University and was the guest speaker at his graduation, the first Latino to speak during commencement in school history. Lara is now the courtroom deputy clerk to the Honorable Angel Kelley, U.S District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

“It’s hard to describe in words what Project GOAL means to me. This program gave me a chance to dream big,” he said. “Whether it was pursuing private school education, high-level youth soccer, or other opportunities that have continued to support my career as a public servant, it was Project GOAL that gave me the vision I never had as a kid. Above all, it gave me a family of brothers. Together, we learned the importance of working hard to achieve our goals. We defied systemic barriers and became successful professionals. My experiences with my peers in Project GOAL have deepened my appreciation of and engagement in our communities. My hope is that Project GOAL’s legacy will continue to touch the lives of many students from underrepresented backgrounds for decades to come.”

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