LA2050 Grants Challenge applications are open now through June 28th, 2024.
2019 Grants Challenge
🎉 Winner

Harlem Lacrosse - Los Angeles

Harlem Lacrosse - Los Angeles is a sports-based youth development organization that provides opportunities, relationships, and experiences that put youth on a path to success as students, athletes, and citizens. Led by professionals with years of lacrosse training and urban education experience, our innovative school-based model uses sports and mentorship to help students break the cycle of poverty by providing wrap-around programming in a safe, structured, future-focused, and fun environment.


Briefly tell us a story that demonstrates how your organization turns inspiration into impact.

At HL-LA, Inspiration to Impact means that we intentionally work with youth to develop pathways for young people to reach their dreams.

Eduardo Cruz is a sophomore who first joined HL-LA in middle school and continues to stay involved with HL-LA today. Not only does he continue to train with HL-LA, he has grown into new roles, including serving as a volunteer coach, tutor, and member of our high school career mentorship cohort. Here is how he describes the impact of HL-LA in his own words:

“When I joined Harlem Lacrosse - Los Angeles, my life changed. I grew up in El Salvador but when I got to the United States I knew no one and had no athletic options. I was new and timid and just learning English. I was introduced to lacrosse during a PE demonstration in 8th grade, and I immediately fell in love with the sport and the Harlem Lacrosse community. I really appreciated the mission, to provide opportunities to people, like me, who don’t have much and who don’t usually have the same access to sports like lacrosse. When I first started playing, I was shy and quiet, nervous to speak up or ask questions. The coaches at Harlem Lacrosse have challenged me physically and taught me valuable lessons about leadership and finding my voice. I have been a part of a career mentorship program for three years with the founder of AdvicePeriod, which included overcoming my fear of public speaking and giving a presentation to over 40 people. I have even started volunteering as a coach, passing on important lessons to the younger players. Now I have way more confidence and am a vocal leader of my Hamilton high school lacrosse team and am very involved in my school and community. Without Harlem Lacrosse, I would never have found my passion or become a high school athlete. Thanks to lacrosse I have been able to meet a lot of great people that have made a huge impact in my life, including players and coaches from club teams HL-LA found for me. The staff at Harlem Lacrosse encouraged me to chase my dream of attending Loyola, and have supported me through my decision to apply there this spring. Deciding to join Harlem Lacrosse was the best decision ever, it completely changed my life and helped me grow into the person I am today.”

Which of the PLAY metrics will your submission impact?​​

Access to open space and park facilities

Number of children enrolled in afterschool programs

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?​

South LA

Compton, Inglewood

How will your project make LA the best place to PLAY?

"Lacrosse is played here!" This simple yet bold statement greets drivers on Slauson Boulevard. HL-LA is making LA the best place to PLAY by bringing lacrosse to LA's urban areas. Historically a "prep school" sport reserved for more affluent families, lacrosse is mostly unknown in urban areas like South LA, Compton, and Inglewood; HL-LA is creating athletic opportunities for the students in these communities, teaching what it means to be on a team and compete as a student-athlete.

In addition to traditional lacrosse activities like practices, games, tournaments, and camps and complemented by off-field events like local college visits and leadership training, HL-LA provides daily support by installing full-time Program Directors at school sites. A signature feature of Harlem Lacrosse, PD’s are embedded in our partner schools, providing daily mentorship, leadership and enrichment activities, tutoring, as well as lacrosse instruction and competition. This sets us apart from other after-school service providers, since PD’s are in school all day, working collaboratively with teachers, counselors, and school staff. These daily interactions lead to more customized support, family outreach, consistency in leadership and character development, and athletic achievement. HL-LA’s intentional program design coupled with talented coaches and the sport itself, provide the perfect context to teach life lessons and provide trauma-informed coaching and mentorship.

HL-LA serves over 200 Los Angeles youth, ranging from 5th — 10th grade across several school sites in South LA, Compton, and Inglewood. 100% of our student-athletes are either African American or Hispanic, and all qualify for free or reduced lunch. The program is offered to families at no cost; all coaching, facilities rentals, transportation, uniforms, and equipment are provided.

HL-LA is a year-round program designed to support student-athletes on and off the field, and participants average around 250 program hours per year. The fall season is nine weeks, and includes weekly practices, and Play Days on Saturdays. In the winter session, the focus shifts toward more specialized skill development and enrichment opportunities. Spring is lacrosse season, and participants practice, play games and scrimmages, watch local high school and college games and work with program partners to continue improving and learning how to compete. Summer season includes a week-long overnight lacrosse camp at the Thacher School and four weeks of “Summer Academy” day camp.

Harlem Lacrosse is uniquely suited to provide both the stability and mindset our participants need in order to overcome the opportunity gap many face. By providing structured physical activities, academic support, relationships with coaches, mentors, and volunteers, and regular after-school programming, HL-LA will help make LA the best place to PLAY by continuing to provide safe, competitive, instructional, and FUN places for kids to play lacrosse.

In what stage of innovation is this project?​

Expand existing program (expanding and continuing ongoing successful projects)

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.​

At Harlem Lacrosse - Los Angeles, we often talk in terms of leaps and breakthroughs. Sometimes it's a player who is reserved and quiet, who eventually gives a teammate a "shoutout" at the end of practice, or a nervous first-year player who scoops up a ground ball and rolls around a defender for a shot.

Whether it's a goal reached or a goal scored, we believe that all participants served by Harlem Lacrosse - Los Angeles will be changed by our program. They demonstrate greater resilience, self-control and ability to work with other people. They also learn the true meaning of commitment, improve their physical fitness and develop more healthy lifestyles. And ultimately, each participant will have a more future-focused view with the support of a Harlem Lacrosse staff member who works with each family to create a personal pathway to success.

HL-LA uses a few tools to evaluate our effectiveness as an organization. To evaluate the acquisition of non-cognitive skills, we use a tool called the HIA (High Impact Attribute) survey which was developed by our program partner, Up2Us Sports.

We also track academic performance as measured by grades in core classes and physical fitness as measured by the PACER test. Our fundamental objective is to see improvements in each area from the baseline in September to the end line in June.

We also use a tool called the Most Significant Change (MSC) to evaluate the development of life skills. The MSC is a one-question oral survey which is issued at the end of the program year. We believe that higher rates of Intrapersonal Growth and Relationship growth responses are correlated to the development of non-cognitive skills. Based on our historical data, we have set a goal of 80% of total responses indicating either Intrapersonal Growth or Relationship Growth.

To evaluate the depth of participation we look at a few key metrics; hours of participation per year per participant, annual rates of attendance, and year over year retention.

Each year we compile an annual report detailing our impact. Some key findings from 2018 were: increase in GPA of almost an entire letter grade, 10% higher attendance, fewer suspensions, higher participation in Harlem Lacrosse programming, and impressive independent school and college acceptance rates. The most recent report can be found here: