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Soccer is the hook at New Dimensions — but the real goal is teaching life skills

Kids compete in an unstructured scrimmage at a New Dimensions practice on May 7 at the McKinley Practice Field.
Emily Woodbury
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Kids compete in an unstructured scrimmage at a New Dimensions practice on May 7 at the McKinley Practice Field.

For 17 years, New Dimensions has provided low-income kids in the St. Louis area something their affluent peers take for granted: access to soccer. The nonprofit has offered countless kids, including many refugees and immigrants, a high-quality soccer program — for free.

Tom Michler, co-founder of the organization, says the focus is soccer, but the game is an avenue to provide so much more.

Tom Michler co-founded New Dimensions in 2005.
Emily Woodbury
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New Dimensions co-founder Tom Michler sees New Dimensions' impacts go far beyond soccer.

“It’s really utilizing a sport to connect with kids and then do more — mentoring and life skills,” he said. “And a lot of those life skills, teachings, take place spontaneously.”

At a New Dimensions practice on May 7 at the McKinley Practice Field, St. Louis resident Patricia Thompson called New Dimensions a “wonderful community.”

As a single parent raising two foster kids, Thompson said the interaction between the coaches and her foster sons keeps them coming back every Saturday.

“For example, today, the coach had asked if my oldest son Enzie would be able to ride the tractor and cut the field, which is a humongous ego boost to a foster boy. All of the coaches interact with them in that way,” she said.

For Nadia Soudani, who emigrated from Lebanon to St. Louis five months ago, New Dimensions offers a place for her family to form connections in town.

“It's good to have a group activity with kids, especially [since] we don't know a lot of people in St. Louis,” she said.

Many parents at Saturday’s practice mentioned the diversity of New Dimensions participants as the top reason they stay involved. That’s music to the ears of Michler, who formed the group with that value in mind.

New Dimensions volunteers distribute prizes and hot dogs after practice.
Emily Woodbury
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New Dimensions volunteers distribute prizes and hot dogs after practice.

“We want to bring all kids together, but really [try] to focus on the kids that otherwise just wouldn't have the opportunity,” he said.

When Michler launched the program in 2005, he said he saw it as a way to not only expose his own kids to people from diverse backgrounds, “but also to give kids that were new to St. Louis, something to do as a way to assimilate into the culture.”

New Dimensions currently offers practices for 5- to 12-year-olds every Saturday between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. from April to September. There's no cost, and there’s no registration.

“Come out when you can make it; we're glad when you're here,” he said. “If you can't, try to make it back sometime soon.”

Parents are encouraged to stay and watch, and there are prizes and hot dogs for the kids after practice.

After September, there's a structured league. “In the fall, we will play our league that will have a registration, a schedule, [and] you'll have an opponent,” he said.

Michler is also working with New Dimensions employees and volunteers on a program that would follow children from age 2 to the post-secondary level.

St. Louis resident and longtime soccer referee Monroe Smith, who is developing the program with Michler, refers to it as “a life skills program with soccer as the hook.”

“[Once] we've got a brain that has the ability to regulate itself,” Smith said, “[then] we concentrate on academics, and say, ‘OK, how are you studying? What are you doing? How are you progressing in school?’"

Tom Michler talks about New Dimensions on St. Louis on the Air

The program would then keep in touch with the kids from elementary to high school and beyond, and allow them to have access to a community for guidance and mentorship.

“We're trying to create an environment where they feel valued,” Michler said. “If we can have that as a theme throughout the entire program, helping kids make choices that work for them, [and] if we can build micro-communities of support around the kids, then they'll see success.”

Related Events
What: Saturday Spring Soccer
When: 10-11:30 a.m. Saturdays, from April to September
Where: McKinley Practice Field (2141 Allen Ave., St. Louis, MO 63104)

What: Beyond Soccer After School Program
When: 4:30-6 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays
Where: Gene Slay Girls & Boys Club of St. Louis (2524 S. 11th St., St. Louis, MO 63104)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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