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Meet Darius Shirzadi of Project GOAL in Providence

Today we’d like to introduce you to Darius Shirzadi.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was born in NYC and went to high school in Westchester, NY. Out of college (Clark University in Worcester, MA), I moved to Providence, Rhode Island in 1994. I was hired as the General Manager of the minor league soccer franchise, the Rhode Island Stingrays. As we were the only “professional” franchise for soccer in the area at the time, I learned all aspects about running a sports franchise and business – grassroots marketing, game day operations, selling ad space, sponsorship, contract negotiation, player recruitment, and media communications. I also started the team’s camp program which generated important revenue for the team during the season and in the off season. Eventually, I ended up working for the Kraft family and Kraft Soccer Properties team which was the New England Revolution of Major League Soccer in Foxboro, MA. I was involved with many of the same aspects as the Stingrays and eventually took on roll of Director of Latino and Cape Verdean Community Outreach and Marketing.

After being involved in soccer at all levels and then getting into coaching, particularly in urban/inner city communities, I saw a gap of need for students from those areas participating in sports and after school activities. Along with a long-time season ticket holder for the Stingrays/Revolution and former player for the Stingrays, we sought to address the massive number of students not participating in after school programming due to fees and lack of transportation, plus the extremely high dropout rate from high school in the inner city in Providence County inner city areas – particularly Central Falls. Project GOAL (Greater Opportunity for Athletes to Learn) was formed in 2002 and in 2004 we started the program with 20 kids. We use the sport of soccer as the incentive to keep kids focused on school, off the streets, and give them the support academically and athletically to help them grow. The program has been 100% free to its participants and families to this day. Now in our 14th year, we have now serviced over 1,000 children and over 90% of those who have participated have graduated from high school and gone onto college. Project GOAL is recognized by the FIFA (governing body for soccer globally) Football for Hope program as one of its best practice programs and we receive annual funding from them to use soccer for social good. I continue to function as the Executive Director of Project GOAL and work full time for an advanced textiles manufacturer, the Cooley Group in Pawtucket, RI.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There have been some challenges along the way. It has not always been easy to convince educators that Project GOAL is an education first program because they cannot see past the sports element. Soccer people have sometimes had a hard time accepting us as a program to help kids through the sport rather than competition for existing clubs or businesses because of the demographic of kids we have access to and we are a free of charge program. Funding has always been a challenge, but we have been very creative with fundraising events and sponsorship. We have had a lot of items donated over the years for equipment, snacks, water, etc. so that offsets a lot of cost. Personally, I was juggling a lot when my first two children were born when we incorporated Project GOAL, I started a new job at the Cooley Group, and then started running (Project GOAL) from 2002-2004.

Please tell us about Project GOAL

Project GOAL is a 100% free, coeducational, academic responsibility, tutoring and mentoring initiative inspiring academic success through the reward of soccer. Meeting after school, twice a week student spends 90 minutes of targeted academic enrichment with accredited teachers and earn an equal of time in soccer training with our licensed coaches. We foster academic and social accountability and responsibility ultimately defining and producing compassionate and conscious community members.

Since 2004 Project GOAL has impacted the lives of over 1,000 Rhode Island middle school youth providing an after school academic enrichment program using soccer as an incentive towards increased academic performance and an overall support for success.

With school retention rates as a program focus Project GOAL has maintained a steady high school graduation rate of 96% and with 90% going on to college.

I think what sets us apart from other organizations is that we do what we say, meaning we are very disciplined in what we ask of the students and students can be dropped from the program for too many infractions on attendance, lack of work, behavior, participation, etc. We have a waiting list of families to get their students in so the program and what it provides is in high demand.

We are most proud that we have positively impacted and affected so many lives. We take great pleasure in seeing our alumni at the program and functions coming back to participate and help with the current generation of students.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Nothing, no regrets at all. We have done everything right and have made all the right decisions and moves for the benefit of the students and the program.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Antone Botelho

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