Interest in Identity’s Recreation Program is exploding, as Montgomery County middle and high school students are hungry for new ways to get active, connect with peers, and rebound physically and mentally after a long period of inactivity and social isolation.

“I’m seeing tremendous growth in participation,” said Efrain Viana, Identity’s Recreation Manager, “fueled by word of mouth from current players. We see a lot of kids who build confidence, become more responsible because they’re held accountable by their teammates to show up for practices, and learn to trust others around them. And when it comes to emotional well-being – trust is big.”

Identity has been offering bilingual, culturally responsive recreation programming in Montgomery County Public Schools since 2015, providing kids and their families with a range of opportunities to strengthen school connectedness and other protective factors that have been shown to lead to better health, academic and life outcomes. In addition to competitive sports including soccer, tennis, and volleyball, the program also connects students to noncompetitive activities such as hiking, swimming, dancing, strength training, and yoga. These are great opportunities to make new friends, experience the healing power of nature, and learn new life skills. Last summer, 40 Identity kids participated in free ‘Learn to Swim’ classes offered through a partnership between Identity and Montgomery County Aquatics. And in September, Identity took 77 youth and family members to the George Washington National Forest to participate in RioPalooza, a free day of outdoor activities—including horseback riding, snorkeling, tubing, fishing, and hiking—offered in partnership with the Shenandoah River Keepers.

One of the Recreation program’s most popular offerings is the Soccer4Change League, a year-round series of competitive games for youth who are often unable to play on other soccer teams because of barriers like fees, transportation, or even grades.  Soccer4Change is a partnership between Montgomery County Department of Recreation, the Street Outreach Network, the City of Gaithersburg, and other nonprofit agencies, paying special attention to the social-emotional benefits of team sports for young people. It is currently offered at Gaithersburg, Seneca Valley, Wheaton, and Watkins Mill High Schools as well as Gaithersburg Middle School.

Identity’s female players have been real standouts. Last Fall, the Identity-coached Gaithersburg Middle School girls’ soccer team won the Soccer4Change League Final for the second year in a row. Several members of the GMS team went on to participate in the 2022 All-Star game, which pitted up-county against down-county. All-Star team members were nominated by their coaches based on positive attributes such as sportsmanship, accountability and teamwork skills.

We believe it is important to offer a variety of opportunities for Identity youth and families to rebound and grow through sports and other physical activity. “We’re seeing these activities making a real difference,” observed Recreation Assistant Joel Cruz. “So many of our Rec participants come back and share that during really difficult times, recreation at Identity provided a safe haven and a place to just be a kid.”