Fresno Community Organizers Hope For Expansion Of Sports Fee Waiver Voucher

“It’s things like sports that develop the best qualities of human nature.”


Nearly three months after Fresno leaders approved a plan that makes city-sponsored recreational activities more affordable for low income families, supporters of the youth sports fee waiver program are still hoping to expand the idea. Members of the CNC Education Fund, who spearheaded the fee waiver program, spoke about their vision for the next phase of the plan.

CNC members said they are thrilled to see that the voucher is available to city-sponsored programs, but they also want to make it accessible to youth sports programs organized by private organizations. 

“We’re gonna need more organizations, we’re going to need more sports teams supporting our ideas and we’re just going to need more people to support what we’re doing in order to have even bigger victories,” said Pedro Navarro Cruz, CNC community organizer. “Maybe this is the beginning, but if we were able to create, like, a large fund — county or city-wide or statewide where this problem is essentially eliminated— the sky’s the limit. But it is going to take more people to be a part of this and we’re just getting started, so right now our group is small, but we do hope to expand.” 

Cruz said his group worked with the Fresno Parks Recreation and Arts Commission to establish the voucher program, which is made possible with a $300,000 allocation from Measure P funds.

“Measure P is a new tax revenue that we have here in the City of Fresno, that was won like a couple years ago and last year was its full first year,” Cruz said. “So now through this special fund we have about $75 million dollars a year that is available, which is unprecedented in the City of Fresno.” 

According to Cruz, Fresno City Council President Tyler Maxwell sponsored the youth sports voucher, which was also well-received by several other council members. The program, which is available for children ages 3- 15, reduces the fee of city-run sports programs from $75 per child per sport to $20. To qualify for the voucher, families must show proof of participation in need-based assistance programs such as EBT, SNAP or WIC or PG&E CARE.  Household income must be at or below 150% of the federal poverty line to qualify. 

Brenda Quispe, a volunteer with the CNC, said she has especially seen a great interest in Fresno youth who want to play soccer. Quispe, who is also a mother, said it’s critical to have programs that allow young people to pursue their interest in sports.

“If their parents were able to afford it, I know that can keep the kids off the streets, keep them out of trouble,” Quispe said. “You shouldn’t be prevented from doing something like that because of lack of money. I’m really grateful for the voucher. I just feel like if we have more opportunities for students to just be kids and be themselves they would feel that support from the community.” 

Cruz spoke about his own experience as a child, saying that soccer saved him from getting into trouble.

“If I wasn’t playing soccer, then who knows what the heck I’d be doing. I probably wouldn’t be alive today,” he said. “So I think that’s why people are so drawn to sports in general because it’s a way for them to give back in a way that they received it. It’s paying it forward . . . We have to make sure our taxpayer money is working for things that we like to do, so this is the beginning of that.”

Cruz also emphasizes the importance of sports when it comes to the health benefits and valuable life skills it teaches to children. 

“It’s things like sports that develop the best qualities of human nature,” he said. “Unfortunately there isn’t enough of it because you have to have some kind of privilege to play it. There are some ways where if you live in the hood, you can find a way to play it, but I think there has to be funding mechanisms . . . There is a safety impact too where you’re building better neighborhoods, better individuals and communities through sports. You’re bringing people together when you’re on a team,  you’re learning how to interact with other people. It’s a fun way to prepare you for a job in the future or in college.”  

In addition to the voucher program, CNC members are advocating for improvements in Fresno parks. Jose Navarrete, a CNC volunteer, said there are times where the city doesn’t even fix broken sprinklers in the parks of South Fresno. Navarrete adds that he worked 12 years in the Parks and Recreation department and noticed many of the problems that still exist today.

Navarrete, who has a 1-year-old child, said his son is already showing interest in soccer like many other kids in his neighborhood and they all need a safe place to grow and play. 

The Fresno advocate said he remembers playing soccer in the streets of Southeast Fresno as a child until a coach took him to the north side of town.

“Now, it’s our turn,” Navarrete said. “It’s time to work on something so we don’t have to take our kids so far away.”

Applications for the Youth Fee Waiver Program are available here.

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