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File photo via Twitter/DV7Astoria

Led by international soccer star David Villa, a local soccer program aimed at providing athletic opportunities to unaccompanied minors in New York City has moved its programming online to meet the demands and restrictions created by the COVID-19 crisis.

The DV7 soccer program, which, according to its founders, provides refuge and a sense of community to unaccompanied immigrant children, has created online programming that allows participants to continue to improve their soccer skills and physical fitness, all from inside their homes.

A collaboration between Villa, the Hispanic Federation and Queens Councilman Francisco Moya, DV7 faced the challenge of moving its programming to a virtual space in only its second year. But its founders say it’s been a great success.

“We’re seeing this now really come together in a really organic way that has helped us see how we can have an impact on the future of these children,” said Moya, who secured $150,000 in funding for the Hispanic Federation to run the program. “This is really going to have a profound impact on our youth and how we go forward during this time of uncertainty.”

For the children DV7 serves, uncertainty is, unfortunately, not a new feeling.

“They’re going through a rough start in their time in this country,” Moya said. “The wonderful part of this is that we’re giving these young kids something to look forward to.”

In its first year, DV7 served about 75 unaccompanied minors, as well as approximately 50 other children. The kids enrolled in the program were chosen after the Hispanic Federation reached out foster care organizations that serve a similar population. DV7 is open to children ages 5-17, although this year, they’ve begun to lean more toward serving teenage kids.

While the unaccompanied minors’ immediate needs must be met, Hispanic Federation President Frankie Miranda says the need for exercise and the sense of community that DV7 provides must also be met.

“We need to provide opportunities in many different ways,” Miranda said. “Not only for food and family security, but we also need to think about the mental health of our children.”

Additionally, DV7 provides its youth opportunities to interact with other kids in similar situations as well as with kids who are not.

“This socialization is very important,” Moya said. “A lot of these children who were really shy, really came out of their shells.”

For Moya, there is no better person than Villa to implement the program. A Spanish native, Villa has adopted Queens as a second home and is now the owner of Queensboro FC, a new United Soccer League team coming to the borough in 2021.

“Our goal is to help as many kids as possible, worldwide, in soccer,” Villa said. “This time is difficult for the kids and it’s good that during the day, they can enjoy this initiative for a few hours. We are very proud.”

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