Street Soccer USA , UC Davis Health and Women’s Premier Soccer League club California Storm announced on Aug. 13 the launch of the Ladies First Initiative – a three-part program to ensure that voices in the Sacramento community, especially girls and minorities, are not just heard, but elevated.

“In soccer, we talk about ‘building your triangle’ and that is what we are doing by partnering with Street Soccer USA and the California Storm for this important Ladies First Initiative,” said UC Davis Medical Center Interim Chief Executive Officer Brad Simmons. “In these dynamic times, it has become exponentially clearer the need to build opportunity for our youth via place and space. We have witnessed the engagement with the community that Street Soccer USA parks provide and the opportunity for young women that California Storm creates – which is why UC Davis Health believes in the Ladies First Initiative and its importance for the girls and young women in our community.”

Made possible through a unique partnership including UC Davis Health, SSUSA and the California Storm, the Ladies First Initiative will include three key components: UC Davis Health-branded California Storm Puma jerseys; a dynamic girls’ after-school program in Oak Park and a compelling mentorship program between the California Storm and SSUSA.

For its first year, the program will engage more than 500 girls and young women, between the ages of six and 24 years old. Data and outcomes collected from the year one pilot will provide the basis for replicating the initiative as a model across the SSUSA National Footprint, with the goal of serving and connecting 10,000 girls across the U.S. by 2022.

“Today’s announcement is a perfect example of how public/private partnerships are beneficial and essential in our communities. With partnerships like this, we can build not just soccer parks, but we can build communities,” said City of Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg on Aug. 13. “This program is a pipeline for the future success of girls in our neighborhoods. By using soccer as a tool, it provides role models for these girls so they can successfully continue their education and build their careers here in Sacramento.”

In the U.S., girls by the age of 14 are dropping out of sports 1.5 times faster than boys and have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play high school sports compared to boys. Lack of physical education in schools, and limited opportunities to play sports in both high school and college, especially for girls of color, mean girls must look elsewhere for sports. The Ladies First Initiative addresses many of these issues by creating both place and space for girls to play, learn and grow.

“The California Storm is so proud to have a partner in UC Davis Health and to represent them our jerseys and across our hearts,” stated California Storm Executive Director Jamie Levoy. “Completing our triangle by working with Street Soccer Sacramento to provide mentors and after school programing for our young girls, only increases the impact in our community.”

Through sports, girls learn important life skills such as teamwork, leadership and confidence. More than three-quarters of working women feel that sports participation helped enhance their self-image. According to the NCAA, female student athletes graduate at a rate of 75 percent; seven percentage points higher than female nonstudent athletes and 14 percentage points higher than male student athletes.

“As both a Street Soccer Sacramento leader and a program alum, I can speak directly to the impact of our program and its ability to change lives,” said SSUSA Managing Director Lisa Wrightsman. “I am truly proud of the program we have built, with over 90 percent of our participants improving key social-emotional learning skills; skills that change lives and help young girls as athletes and students.”

The program was announced at a press conference Aug. 13 at the UC Davis Health Neighborhood Street Soccer USA Park in the Sacramento neighborhood of Oak Park. Steinberg, Simmons, Levoy and Wrightsman were joined by U.S. Women’s National Team World Champion, Gold Medalist and Soccer Hall of Famer Brandi Chastain, Councilmember Steve Hansen (District 4), Councilmember Jay Schenirer (District 5), SSUSA Sacramento Board Member Tiffany Frasier, California Storm players and female students in the program. Chastain is a former California Storm player and currently sits on its board.