Soccer balls or gangs? That's the choice Sunnyside's Sylvia Alvarez is posing to local residents.
Alvarez is one of the instigators who's sold both the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce and the Sunnyside Miss Cinco de Mayo Court on seeking out donations of soccer balls. The goal, she said, is to collect 250 soccer balls, which in turn will be distributed to area youngsters.
The inspiration for the soccer ball drive is Alvarez's brother-in-law, 2005 Sunnyside High School graduate Junior Garcia. For those not in the sports-know, Garcia just happens to be the greatest soccer player to have ever put on a Grizzly uniform. Just recently named the MVP of the USL's Premiere Development Soccer League after leading the Yakima Reds in scoring this past season, he is now battling for a roster spot on the Seattle Sounders men's soccer team.
Alvarez said when her brother-in-law started attending classes at Sunnyside High School he could count on one hand his close friends.
"With the few friends he had, Junior had a choice…hang out with the friends who had gang ties or the ones who played soccer," Alvarez explained.
The obvious choice Garcia made has opened a multitude of doors for the former SHS soccer standout. "And now, he's on the brink of landing a professional contract with one of the country's top soccer teams," said Alvarez.
Alvarez figures there are hundreds of local youngsters who are facing the same choice her brother-in-law had to make five or six years ago. "Do we want the kids in our community to join a gang, or do we want to give them something to do?" she pondered.
Exasperating the situation is the city's recent decision to close down all parks and recreation activities. "That doesn't leave the kids much to do," Alvarez said.
To help fill that void, a collection of new and used soccer balls is currently underway. Those who would like to donate a soccer ball, or cash that can be used to purchase a ball, are asked to drop off the donations at the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce office. "Or they can call me at 840-2722," said Alvarez.
Also towards that end, the Sunnyside Miss Cinco de Mayo Court will be out canvassing neighborhoods and knocking on doors this coming Saturday and Sunday soliciting donations of soccer balls.
In turn, the balls will be given to local youngsters, one per family, in an effort to steer the youths down a path that could lead to something productive and fruitful.
"We're asking for everyone's help," said Alvarez.
"My brother-in-law had a choice. We want to give all the kids in Sunnyside the same choice."