Kids in southeast Bakersfield will soon have a new soccer complex — thanks to their own advocacy.
Construction crews broke ground this week on a new indoor soccer field in Rexland Acres after a coalition of community members — many of them students — fought for at least three years for state, county and grant funding.
“This is the result of the youth expressing what they want to see in their community,” said Gustavo Aguirre, the director of organizing for The Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, which secured a $55,000 grant from the California Air Resources Board.
It all started when a group of kids wanting to play soccer realized there was no place to play. The nearest fields are an 18 minute drive, and about 40 minutes by bicycle. Those soccer players began hopping fences to schoolyards for access to fields. Except they always got kicked out.
Jose Pinto, a volunteer with the Greenfield Walking Group, a local organization that works to make communities healthier and safer, began working with the kids to find funding for a new soccer complex in their own neighborhood.
“What I found out was that they want to play soccer,” Pinto, 23, said. “We decided the best solution is to have a space to play.”
The fundraising was driven by desire to bring more recreational areas to a low-income part of Kern County that has historically lacked adequate green space for kids.
Pinto and the kids worked with local organizations, the county and the state to secure funding for the field. They raised roughly $80,000.
To raise money, the Greenfield Walking Group held zumbathons, and Fifth District Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez designated local funding for the soccer field.
“They had local groups supporting youth, connecting with organization like CRPE and working with the county to make it happen,” Aguirre said. “For us, having a place to come and meet and exercise is important.”
Research shows parks boost well-being for the entire neighborhood, however, 57 percent of people in Bakersfield live further than a 10-minute walk from a park, according to a recent report by the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit dedicated to bringing more green spaces to communities.
But soon youth in Rexland can enjoy a soccer field close to home.
“At the end of the day, the young people decided it could be used as a multi-purpose facility,” Pinto said.
The community members can play soccer, tennis, volleyball and many other sports in the facility.
“The ladies can dance zumba if they want to,” Pinto added.
The field will be a bit smaller than a basketball court, said Pinto. It will feature one concrete field surrounded by a fence.
Now youth must wait a few more weeks to play the in Rexland. Pinto said he thinks the construction will be finished by the end of November.
The indoor soccer field is a victory for Rexland, but this isn’t just about the field. The process was a teachable moment for youth in Rexland, Aguirre said.
“These kids are setting an example for other communities,” Aguirre said. “If they want something, now they know they can get it.”