Teenagers honored by ESPN for helping launch a football program in Watts



LOS ANGELES – Gabriel Banuelos recently received the Billy Jean King Youth Leadership Award at ESPN’s Sports Humanitarian Awards.

Banuelos was recognized for its co-founders of Nicks Kids, a program that provides children from Watts’ Nickerson Gardens with a safe place to play football.

“We grew up on gang violence, drugs and other environmental issues that kids here are used to and shouldn’t be used to,” Gabriel Banuelos, co-founder of Nick’s Kids, told Localish.

Banuelos eventually reached out to the Los Angeles Police Department to create a safe environment for children to play soccer outside once a week.

This led to a collaboration with the LAPD’s PALS program and Nicks Kids was born to not only provide youngsters with a safe place to play, but also enable children to interact with the police and ease their fears of law enforcement.

“Nick’s Kids has a structured soccer program, but our main focus is education,” said Co-Founder Jeff Joyce.

“We’re really pushing the academics along with several other programs we have in Watts,” added Joyce.

Nicks Kids now has over 30 participants who meet every week in a supervised park to play football, have fun and just enjoy being a child.

Banuelos recently graduated from Verbum Dei where he has a GPA above 4.0 and will be attending UCLA this fall.

“We hope they learn that academics are a great way to help yourself, but helping others is also about being a good person,” said Banuelos.

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