OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- An East Bay lacrosse coach is helping to bring one of the oldest team sports in North America to more Oakland public school students.
Kevin Kelley began the Oakland Lacrosse Club in 2012, introducing lacrosse at public middle and high schools across the city.
"Our goal in this program is for them to use lacrosse to build their confidence and for them to accomplish whatever they want," Kelley explained.
Student-athletes who join a Oakland Lacrosse Club team get free equipment, uniforms and transportation to games. Players get a mentor, academic and college counseling, nutrition workshops, and field trips - including college visits.
Oakland High senior Angeline Soriano says her mentor helped her decide to pursue a career as a nurse.
"They guided me through literally everything," Soriano said.
The club serves nearly 200 players on boys and girls teams.
They're supported by volunteers, plus paid coaches and mentors who are funded through individual donations, foundations and city grants.
LEARN MORE: Jefferson Awards for Public Service
Right now, the high school girls league has three teams, but that will soon change. In partnership with the Oakland Unified School District and Oakland Athletic League, Kelley is building an eight-school girls varsity league to start in two years.
So more girls can experience teamwork and resilience, as Oakland Technical High 9th grader Leila Velez did.
"I get to grow along with my peers. We have our strengths, we have our downs. We just get back up and just keep going," Velez said.
Her mother, Josie Ip, says Kelley cultivates a caring environment.
"It's like a friendship and a director and coach all looped into one," said Ip. "The kids always come back to Oakland Lacrosse because of what he's built."
Kelley came up with the idea for the club while he was coaching high school and college lacrosse, while working as a reading instructor for underserved students.
He said the Oakland Lacrosse Club was a way to bridge those two worlds.
"My favorite thing is getting to know them, all the kids, all the families, and seeing them be successful," said Kelley. "And most importantly, they see themselves as being really successful."
So for empowering confidence and leadership among hundreds of students through the Oakland Lacrosse Club, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Kevin Kelley.
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