New Space for Soccer in Oak Park Aims to Give Kids an Outlet

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SACRAMENTO -- A brand new outdoor space for kids in Oak Park to play soccer opened Monday.

The construction of the new street soccer field wasn't always easy.

"I was one of the people who actually helped make it, constructed it, in the rain, piece by piece," soccer coach Jennifer Schapira said.

Schapira says she knows how important soccer can be as an outlet.

"I got involved with street soccer about three years ago when I was in a women's empowerment program up here in Sacramento," she told FOX40. "It was a job program for homeless women. I had been homeless for like five years."

Through that program, Schapira says she fell in love with coaching. Now, she hopes to instill the values she learned through soccer to the next generation -- to kids like Emlyno, who feels a similar escape when he steps out on the pitch.

"Teamwork, and how you can go play one game and forget all of it. I can have fun with my friends," he said.

And more than just having fun, it's a place for support.

"A lot of kids that I work with come from unsupportive environments where maybe they don't get to be a kid. Maybe they're helping raise a family of five, maybe they're being told they're worthless," Schapira said. "A lot of different things come out, and I see it on the field, and it gives them a place to be a kid."

The new field in Oak Park will give plenty of opportunities for that.

"My friends don't live around me, so here it's close to my school so I can come here and play with my friends," Emlyno said.

While kids like Emlyno will keep playing, Schapira will keep coaching.

"I can relate to it, and talk to them, and have that connection, and then pass them the ball and see them get a goal and high five them. Just to see that smile and them excited about something, I just love it, it's just awesome," she said. "They can't get rid of me here. I will be a part of street soccer."

FOX40's Adrian Espinoza and Grant Hansen contributed to this report.

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