Atlanta’s StationSoccer is a unique program that is connecting communities and inspiring social change. Sanjay Patel, the director of strategic projects at Soccer in the Streets, was inspired to create the program after observing that the organization often had to spend money on transportation costs. He realized that there were spaces in and around train stations that were unused and came up with the idea of using these spaces to build safe spaces for children to play and engage with their communities.
The idea took off, and soon the organization worked with city officials on the permitting process and installed the first StationSoccer location at Atlanta’s Five Points Station. Other locations soon followed, and the city of Atlanta became a financial partner as well, requesting backing from the Atlanta City Council in the amount of $600,000.
Each soccer site is free for all the children who participate, and other partners have also been brought in to assist with the program, including the professional soccer team, Atlanta United, and global architectural firm HKS. HKS performed an analysis of each of the StationSoccer locations and identified where the communities had gaps. Community gardens were created at the Kensington and West End locations, and local artists were recruited to represent the mosaic of cultures at the Kensington Station.
StationSoccer now impacts about 1,000 children in Metro Atlanta, with approximately 200 participating at each of the five sites. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg also visited StationSoccer’s East Point location last year. The work of StationSoccer has garnered numerous awards, and the goal is to operate 10 locations by the 2026 World Cup.
Patel believes that StationSoccer is making a real difference in the community by providing access to healthy, active lifestyles and safe spaces that normally wouldn’t have been available. He says, “It just goes to show that when you get people collaborating, what can be done. It’s nice to get the awards, but really it goes down to when folks get access to these spaces, and what can be done [is] some really impactful work within communities that can help change and bring healthy, active lifestyles and safe spaces to communities that normally wouldn’t have access to things like that.”