Throughout this summer we will be showcasing various organizations that are growing the game in positive and meaningful ways. This weeks program is Chicago based Owls Lacrosse.
OWLS is a sports-based youth development organization that creates opportunities for underserved youth in Chicago. With lacrosse as its foundation, OWLS provides impactful mentorship, academic intervention, and enrichment experiences to support the social-emotional growth of the youth we serve.
OWLS was founded in 2011 with a goal to improve the lives of underserved Chicago youth by offering a lacrosse-based program that combines teaching and playing the sport with academic tutoring, mentoring and social enrichment. Sam Angelotta founded the organization during his time as a teacher, coach, and Athletic Director at St Malachy School on Chicago’s Near West Side. In 2016, he began working full time for OWLS in order to bridge the educational gaps for OWLS Scholars, expand programming, and strengthen organizational capacity.
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In areas like Chicago’s South and West side neighborhoods, children grow up in divested, racially segregated, restricted neighborhood environments with little or no safe places to play. Billions of dollars have been cut from public school sports programs and opportunities for developmentally positive play are increasingly limited. In Chicago’s suburbs there are over 100 varsity lacrosse programs while in the city limits there are less than 20, the majority of which are at private schools. Limitations on safe play spaces, lack of quality coaching, cost to play, and transportation issues ensure that lacrosse is out of reach for almost all children on the South and West Sides.
OWLS provides transformational experiences to more than 300 students each year at no cost to the participants through sports based youth development programming. Since its inception OWLS has continually improved and expanded its outreach and mentoring opportunities by way of three related OWLS programs: Outreach, League, and Academy. OWLS utilizes a premier staff and more than 100 volunteers to engage students from all over Chicago’s South and West Side neighborhoods. Through centralized locations and a network of partner schools, we operate our Outreach (grades 3-5), League (Grades 3-8), and Academy (grades 6-12). OWLS coaches are trained using trauma-informed SBYD best practices, and a curriculum that is conducive to the social-emotional growth of our participants.
More Than Lacrosse
The OWLS Academy Scholars program was launched in 2018 to provide year round holistic intervention for the most active members of our afterschool lacrosse programs. Academy offers weekly mentoring by trained coaches and educators, giving youth the consistency needed to develop life skills that will help them enter high school ready to succeed both on and off the lacrosse field. Additionally, OWLS Scholars are given free access to the highest quality academic tutoring, standardized test preparation, scholarship application support, and experiential learning workshops. Finally the program features frequent enrichment trips, career internships, job placement, team-building clinics, and heightened lacrosse opportunities such as college campus tours and overnight camps!
The Academy is focused on the following outcomes:
- Middle school students, receive admission and scholarships to competitive college preparatory high schools (selective enrollment public, private, and boarding).
- High school students, maintain a high standard in academics, social, and athletic areas before enrolling in college or joining the community by way of job placement.
The Effect of Covid
Over the past year, extreme circumstances due to COVID-19 have amplified hardships within our most vulnerable communities. Issues such as financial loss, food insecurity, and child isolation intensified our need to address the immediate challenges facing our individual families. Our COVID-19 response has included more than $20,000 in direct financial relief to our families through our partnership with the 1K Project, and student activity care packages for all participants.
The resiliency of our students and staff has enabled us to stay the course and continue to offer high quality virtual academic workshops, enrichment experiences and individual tutoring curricula. Since the start of the school year, we have instilled a hybrid model that includes virtual training, a new mentorship program for OWLS Academy Scholars, and safe small-group live training at our partner sites. More recently, OWLS teamed up with PLL Assists and the Chicago Park District for a day of service and lacrosse. Youth participants and coaches joined professional players Brent Adams, Sergio Perkovic, and John Sexton at Sacks Field (West Garfield Park) for a park clean-up, tree bed mulching, team-building activities, 3 on 3 games, and a community barbecue.
Make sure to read our previous organization spotlights.