Low-income and minority Oakland youth are kicking their way to achievement with the help of a soccer program in their city.

The Oakland Genesis soccer program has reached more than 1,600 children since its founding in 2019, helping them succeed in soccer and in school.

The club was founded by Cody Pillon and Matt Fondy, who met at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Fondy grew up in Foster City and played professional soccer for 10 years, including for a time with the Oakland Roots.

Fondy is now retired and coaching the kids at Oakland Genesis. Pillon is an Oakland native and played competitive soccer at UC Santa Cruz.

Oakland Genesis founders Cody Pillon (left) and Matt Fondy. (Photo by Aaron Jones/Oakland Genesis via Bay City News)

The two men are helping youth by reducing the costs to play competitive soccer and by providing academic support.

Pillon said he is disheartened with the pay-to-play youth soccer club system, which makes it too costly for many families to give their children a chance to play the sport, so he set out to change that.

Oakland Genesis players now pay nothing to play competitive soccer. Players also get transportation to all facets of the program, an academic coach, supervised mentorship and healthy food.

When Fondy joined Pillon, the pair decided to also help players succeed in school. That meant helping them grow personally and graduate with opportunities.

Scoring on education

For a year during the pandemic, Oakland Genesis moved its soccer program online. The program began by helping kids at Elmhurst United Middle School.

Boys in the Oakland Genesis academy teams play in some of Northern California’s premier soccer leagues. The grade point average for players in the academy teams is 3.34, while for Oakland students overall it is 2.6 to 2.7.

Oakland Genesis has an academic curriculum of its own and it helps players with homework they get in school. Players get nearly 100 hours of academic support per year. Players are on the field practicing or playing games about 400 hours a year. Children can have experience playing soccer or none at all.

Players receive coaching in the Oakland Genesis soccer program. The nonprofit, which has no permanent facility, has worked with children at more than 15 Oakland schools and 18 of the city’s recreation centers. (Photo courtesy of Wells Fargo via Bay City News)

The nonprofit soccer program has touched children at more than 15 Oakland schools and 18 of the city’s recreation centers.

A huge challenge for Oakland Genesis is finding places to play, which is also true for Oakland Roots. Both teams are looking for permanent homes in Oakland.

It’s also a challenge for Oakland Genesis to raise money.

Wells Fargo donated more than 900 soccer uniforms to the program. People interested in donating to Oakland Genesis can do so on the team’s website.