A Grassroots Soccer Program Seeks to Inspire Youth, Veterans and Their Families to Reach Goals

Flag bearers.

  • Category
    Health, People
  • Written by
    Tanya Monaghan
  • Photographed by
    Jason Kihara
  • Above
    FLAG board members Adam Deierling and Christian Sorenson

Back in 2011, two South Bay friends and business colleagues, Adam Deierling and Tom Sheets, decided to jump on their bikes and ride from Manhattan Beach to Santa Barbara for a pitcher of beer. During this bike ride, they came up with the idea for their buddies to play golf at the Marriott golf course—calling it The Hack, as none of them are particularly stellar at the game. Adam admits that it had very little to do with charity at its inception, but it morphed into a philanthropic event before the tournament began.

Gabriel Banuelos and Adam Deierling

The first tournament was held in 2012, bringing the friends together to chip in and choose a charity. That first year they raised $8,000. Tom and Adam, who both work in commercial real estate, utilized their working relationships to build a regular tournament from there.

Christian Sorenson, a longtime friend of Adam’s as well as a go-to contractor in the industry, came on as a sponsor for the events. They have held the tournament five years in a row, each year growing in attendance and money raised.

“FLAG is the foundation for learning, athletics and growth. This encapsulates the core values needed to support underprivileged youth.”

Tom and Adam started developing committees to help with fundraising, and Chris became the lead sponsor—playing an instrumental part in leadership and support. Adam describes Chris as one of the most generous people he has ever met. He was a great resource in helping the organization decide the best way to allocate the funds raised.

Chris had a relationship with a group called Nicks Kids and was already contributing to their cause, so it seemed a good candidate. Nicks Kids was started by LAPD officer Jeff Joyce (also the brother of one of Chris’ lead employees). “Jeff is a remarkable officer and human being,” Adam shares. “He’s the outreach officer for kids living in Nickerson Gardens—the largest public housing development west of the Mississippi River.” In 2020 they filed a 501(c) to help support these kids, and FLAG was born.

“FLAG is the foundation for learning, athletics and growth. This encapsulates the core values needed to support underprivileged youth,” says Adam. “We wanted to stay focused and local so that we could directly see the impact, which can be seen in the daily work Jeff Joyce is selflessly doing in Nickerson Gardens. He is helping underprivileged kids who have no outlet and aren’t motivated to go to school.”

According to Adam, most of these kids don’t see a bright future ahead. Jeff has seen this firsthand. He saw the need to give these kids an outlet via academics and sports, so he set up the Nicks Kids program. Through it, Jeff and his team currently support 45 kids. Every kid that goes through Nicks Kids has graduated high school. Prior to the program, the graduation rate was a mere 10%. Each kid in the program is held accountable to carry a certain GPA. Currently, the program average is 3.5.

“This is all Jeff’s work, and he doesn’t get paid to do it,” says Adam. “He has done this over the years all on his own time. The main thing that FLAG does is provide what we can for Jeff to do the work and sponsor the kids through high school or with private education.”

FLAG went from raising $8,000 at the first tournament to raising $91,000 at the most recent. They hold two fundraising events each year: the original The Hack and a cornhole outing called The Sack. Chris attributes the success over the years to the philanthropic generosity of the community.

“We facilitate a vehicle for these groups and our friends to give, and fortunately we are surrounded by many givers,” he says. “The majority of our support comes from the South Bay—largely from the commercial real estate industry. There is a long list of big entities that support Nicks Kids. It does pull on the heartstrings of a lot of people. Everyone wants to help, and that is the main reason we do all this.”

Chris loves seeing the direct impact of the giving and has personally supported one of the first pupils of Nicks Kids, Gabriel Banuelos. Chris paid for his private education at Verbum Dei Jesuit High School, where Gabriel far exceeded all expectations—graduating with a 4.3 GPA. Gabriel was accepted to 19 universities across the nation and chose to attend UCLA with a major in biology. He received the esteemed Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award in 2021 for his leadership and dedication to Nicks Kids. He was chosen out of 500 national applicants and was presented with the award in New York City at the ESPY Awards.

Chris is also proud of the impact that has extended beyond the individual kids. “Before Nicks Kids, the parents had nothing to rally around. Parents that wouldn’t even talk to each other because of their political or gang affiliations are now rallying together around the program.”

Recently, FLAG decided to extend its support to veterans. As Chris explains, “We chose the nonprofit Ruck for Veterans similarly because we can directly impact people who are right here in the community.”

Gabriel Banuelos receiving the Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award at the ESPY Awards

Ruck for Veterans was started by Gardena police officer Matt Pech to help veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress within our community. There are thousands of vets living in the South Bay who selflessly served our country. Growing up in Torrance, Matt saw a deficiency in getting them acclimated back into society.

“Usually their only way of being able to talk to each other and vent is at bars. And alcohol can be a dangerous thing for people who may be depressed,” says Chris. “Matt’s idea was to provide a healthy outlet where these like-minded individuals can meet and figure out how to get back into society. They put ‘rucks’ on and get physically engaged, kind of like a boot camp. They meet at the avenues of Redondo Beach, exercise on the beach, and then Matt buys them all a meal where they talk it out in a safe place with people whom they can relate to.”

FLAG supports the goal to provide a facility for vets to meet, put job applications together, get job interviews and ultimately find work. FLAG has also begun a college and career mentorship program, which has opened many doors in the fields of logistics, commercial real estate, construction and insurance.

In turn, Nicks Kids is evolving into the next phase and offering kids support on their career path as they enter adulthood. Adam set up a day to teach Nicks Kids about banking, credit cards and finance. Chris says, “We are breaking the cycle one kid at a time, but then that one kid will have an exponential effect on his/her family down the line.”

When Jeff first started Nicks Kids, some of the participants were getting jumped for their shoes and soccer balls while walking the two blocks to the facility just on the outskirts of Nickerson Gardens. Jeff wasn’t going to let this stop them and figured out a way to scrounge up enough money to buy a van to drive them the few blocks. As the program started to grow and gain recognition for helping kids, the community stepped up to protect the group—another real example of the ever-expanding positive impact of the work they are doing.

The Nicks Kids team has found sports to be not only a healthy outlet but also a huge motivator. At the Nicks Kids site there is an academic building and a study hut, which also doubles as a safe house. Here they can study, do homework and use computers. As a further incentive, as long as the students maintain a good GPA and adhere to good character standards, they also get access to the soccer fields.

Jeff knows that academics lay the foundation for these kids to have a better life, but sports are also a great motivator and teacher. FLAG is looking to partner with notable local soccer entities to help secure and revamp more fields for the kids to safely play on.

What began as a long ride between friends has turned into a vehicle to help uplift communities in need. People born into difficult circumstances with few prospects have been transformed into proud flag-bearers of success in those communities—South Bay friends flying strongly in support.

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