Teen honored by ESPN for helping start neighborhood soccer program in Watts

LOS ANGELES -- Gabriel Banuelos was recently awarded the Billy Jean King Youth Leadership Award at ESPN's Sports Humanitarian Awards.

Banuelos was recognized for his work co-founding Nicks Kids, a program that provides a safe place for kids from Watts' Nickerson Gardens to play soccer.

"We grew up around gang violence, drugs and other environmental things that kids are used to around here that they shouldn't be used to," Gabriel Banuelos, Co-Founder of Nicks Kids told Localish.

Banuelos ended up approaching the Los Angeles Police Department about creating a safe environment for kids to play soccer outside once a week.

This led to a collaboration with LAPDs PALS program and Nicks Kids was born to not only provide youth a safe place to play, but to also allow kids to interact with police and alleviate their fears of law enforcement officials.

"Nicks Kids provides a structured soccer program, but more importantly we focus on education," Co-Founder Jeff Joyce said.

"We really push the academics along with several other programs we have throughout Watts," Joyce added.

Nicks Kids now has over 30 participants who meet each week at a supervised park to play soccer, have fun and simply enjoy being a kid.

Banuelos recently graduated from Verbum Dei where he maintained a GPA above 4.0 and will be attending UCLA in the fall.

"We hope that they learn that academics is a great way to help yourself, but also helping others is what it means to be a good human," Banuelos said.

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