Lou and Anne Vinciguerra grew up on the Northside. Although they moved to the suburbs, they felt called to return to the area and have whole-heartedly invested in the community since their return. When a derelict house in the neighborhood became available, Lou and Anne deliberated and decided to buy the house. Their home is now a tangible example of their mission. Anne said they restored and reused as many of the original parts of the house as possible. Community members who were already familiar with the Vinciguerras helped with the remodel. The Townsend Street property is now their home base for restoring property, neighborhoods, and people.
The Vinciguerra’s organization, Yeshua Restoration Ministries (YRM), takes a very hands-on approach to revitalization. As members of the community, they have first-hand knowledge of its needs. There are several vacant lots on Townsend St., many of which were formerly known as popular locations for nefarious activities. Their ministry was born out of simple efforts to engage their neighbors in positive activities. They installed a bocci court on one of the vacant lots, and frequently set up chessboards outside to play with their neighbors.
People naturally started gathering around their home. Still, less desirable activities continued in the area. Lou and Anne noticed a known drug dealer building a relationship with two young boys from the neighborhood. The Vinciguerras attempted to warn the kids about potential dangers. As they found themselves rectifying similar situations, they decided they had to do more to keep adolescents from the area occupied and productive. Kids already played in a vacant lot near the Vinciguerra home. They all came from different cultures, and unfortunately, they did not always get along. When Lou brought out a soccer ball, language and cultural barriers evaporated. He says, “soccer is universal,” so the YRM soccer club began in the summer of 2010.
Members of the club come from at least 7 different countries, and all of them have played soccer in their home countries. Lou noted the other benefits of soccer include the relatively large number of people on the field at a time compared to other sports, and the strong team dynamic needed in the game. Lou and Anne agree that the thirty or so boys, ranging in age from about 10-15 years old, that regularly attend their club have really become a team. Anne said she often sees boys go to one another’s homes and mothers cooking for one another’s children regardless of ethnic or cultural differences.
The Vinciguerras have noticed the kids they work with grow. They remember many of the kids as undisciplined and unmotivated in the beginning. Lou said there were times when community members singled out new members of the club as “no good.” However, the Vinciguerras’ experiences with them have proven contrary. Anne said the boys are always looking to help with anything they can. Often times, language holds members of the club back in school. Soccer empowers them because they do not need language to participate. In turn, many boys are motivated to work harder at school in order to play on their school’s soccer team.
Members of the club also give back to the community. The Vinciguerra’s included a community service component in the formation of the soccer club. Many people donated soccer equipment to the program, so Lou and Anne believed it was important for the kids to learn to appreciate what was given to them. According to Anne, they “felt that helping neighbors with various projects and weekly cleanup of the streets in the neighborhood was a way to do that.” She says community service is also a good way to learn responsibility and commitment to a cause and a team. As a reward, participants attend monthly cookouts and other activities.
The YRM soccer club is a safe place for kids to grow and learn. Anyone who fights or picks on another person must leave and cannot come back until the next day. Without the threat of violence, the boys are able to focus on the more important things in life. With help from Northside UP and the St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center Foundation, YRM recently applied for and received a grant from the Gifford Foundation. With those funds, they plan to install a fence and goal posts on the formerly vacant lot. Lou, Anne, and their daughter Jessica are the soccer club’s only volunteers, but this small team continues to meet the fluctuating needs of their community. I witnessed YRM’s positive effects when I followed the boys on a neighborhood cleanup. Participants are hardworking, and the neighbors told me how much they appreciate the YRM soccer club’s contribution to the community. In addition to the obvious aesthetic changes the Vinciguerras are making on the Northside, the real fulfillment of their goals lies in the relationships they continue to build within the community.