Play Equity Fund and Nike Team Up to Launch LA Made to Play Neighborhoods in Boyle Heights and Watts

The three-year, $1.3 million program will empower 13 community organizations across the two neighborhoods to create equal access to play for Latino and Black girls


Access “Best Practices in Recruitment and Retention for Girls in Sports: The Critical Role of Parent Engagement” a groundbreaking report focused on the critical role parents and caregivers have in improving girls’ experiences in sports. Access the report and companion guide below:

Play Equity: Reaching Girls in LA to Close the Gap

This commitment started with a question: How can we ensure that girls in LA are healthy and starting on a track for success? Recent research by the LA84 Foundation indicates that in the LA region, youth most likely to be inactive are Latina, aged 15-17, living in low-income households.

Educators and researchers emphasize the importance of sport and play in developing healthy kids and thriving communities. It has never been more urgent after the isolation and hardships brought on by the pandemic, which have disproportionately affected low-income households and people of color.

Despite well-documented research and reports that confirm the value of sport and play in young lives, there remains a systemic crisis in youth sports. According to insights from PEF, household income is the greatest indicator of whether a child will play sports. This gap persists due to a lack of access to play for children, and it has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According the LA84 Foundation 2020 Youth Sports Report, physical inactivity of youth from households with annual incomes less than $35K annually (32%) is over four times the inactivity rate of youth from households with annual incomes of $150K or higher (7%).


LA Made to Play Neighborhoods in Boyle Heights and Watts Will Center on Girls Ages 7-14

In 2021, Nike asked PEF to go deeper and build on the 2020 report findings. PEF identified two communities in LA where the opportunity to bring a place-based impact model could help close the play equity gap to drive transformative change – one girl, one family and eventually one neighborhood, at a time.

As a result, Nike will invest $1.3 million over three years through PEF to fuel 13 organizations in Boyle Heights and Watts – two of the lowest-income neighborhoods in LA County with median household incomes of nearly $40K and $30K, respectively. The three-year project from spring 2022 to spring 2024 will build capacity in these 13 organizations and create a deep bench of support through parent engagement and coach strategies.

The 13 organizations are co-invested in this initiative to help grow their programs, nurture the health of the girls who participate – as well as inspire stronger communities. The focus will be on a place-based approach to create impact, and the LA Made to Play Neighborhoods of Boyle Heights and Watts will work closely with these 13 organizations to create lasting and transformative change:

Boyle Heights:

  • After-School All-Stars – provides free, comprehensive after-school programs that keep children safe and help them succeed in school and life
  • Boyle Heights Youth Footballteaches children the fundamentals of football and cheer, teamwork, competition and leadership to give them a sense of pride in their community.
  • Boys & Girls Club West San Gabriel Valley – provides a safe place to empower youth to support their community, sustain meaningful relationships and develop a positive self-image.
  • Hollenbeck PAL – works with the LAPD to prepare and empower underserved and underprivileged youth to lead responsible, productive and fulfilling lives.
  • Proyecto Pastoral – works to instill self-confidence and self-efficacy in youth so that they graduate from school and are motivated to give back to their community.
  • Students Run LA – challenges underserved secondary students to experience the benefits of goal-setting, character development, adult mentoring and improved health by providing them with a truly life-changing experience: the training for and completion of the LA Marathon.
  • YMCA Metro LA ensures people of all backgrounds work together to strengthen communities and have the opportunity to reach their full potential.


  • Everybody Dance LA! – offers high-quality dance education in low-income areas of LA for youth, ages 4-19, to instill high expectations and cultivate lifelong skills of collaboration, discipline and self-expression.
  • Street Soccer USA – fights poverty and empowers underserved communities through soccer.
  • Watts Rams – aims to positively change the minds of youth through its ‘Kids and Cops Making a Difference’ program by challenging, guiding and teaching student-athletes to be positive leaders, not only in Watts, but in life.
  • Watts Skills Academy – leverages basketball to offer a mentorship program founded and led by LAPD officers, to build leaders and trust through basketball.
  • Woodcraft Rangers – builds strength and resiliency (body), character and equips youth with new skills (mind), deeper understanding of their place in the world (spirit), and greater commitment to their community (service).
  • Peace Players Los Angeles – focuses its peer-to-peer development program for youth leaders in Watts and South LA as part of a global network advocating for a more peaceful and equitable society.

“The LA Made to Play Neighborhoods partnership between the Play Equity Fund and Nike is taking action to bring access to the life benefits of sports and play to the girls of Boyle Heights and Watts,” said Renata Simril, President of the Play Equity Fund. “The gap in access and opportunity for so many children is a crisis hiding in plain sight. We are inspired by Nike’s commitment to these communities. Their investment and support for these 13 organizations brings a team approach to addressing challenges that aren’t insurmountable with the power of collaboration.”

“At Nike, we’re committed to taking action to create a better world and expanding sport for a new generation. And as we mark our 50th year as a company, we’ll continue to take action to change the game for all as we move forward. That’s why we’re building LA Made to Play Neighborhoods with the Play Equity Fund,” said, Matt Geschke, Senior Director of North America Social & Community Impact for NIKE, Inc. “By focusing on place-based impact, grounded in local data and insights, we’re rallying 13 community organizations to go further, faster by sharing resources, coach training and collective support so girls in Boyle Heights and Watts can aim to reach their potential through play and sport.”

The partnership with PEF and community nonprofit organizations is a continuation of Nike’s Made To Play global commitment to get kids moving, while working with local partners to increase kids’ participation in sport – particularly in marginalized communities.


June 2022:  Trained 50+ coaches at Nike LAHQ in partnership with The Center for Healing and Justice Through Sport to equip coaches with a trauma-informed lens that creates more inclusive environments for girls.

July 2022: The 13 organizations, the Play Equity Fund and Nike have developed a community of practice that facilitates peer learning and collaboration among the grantees all centered on increasing access for girls to sport and play programs.

May 2023: In one year, the Nike and Play Equity Fund Made to Play LA Neighborhood initiative has reached over 1,000 girls, 130 coaches and awarded $770,000 in grants to the 13 organizations in Boyle Heights and Watts to encourage girls’ involvement in sports and play.

June 2023: The release of the report – Best Practices in Recruitment and Retention for Girls in Sports: The Critical Role of Parent Engagement – strengthens the Made to Play LA Neighborhood initiative’s collective work over the last 12 months and the data exchange, and has the potential to enhance the efforts of sports-based youth development organizations nationally. The report focuses on the critical role parents and caregivers have in improving girls’ experiences in sports. Research previously has not concentrated on parent engagement for the recruitment, participation and retention of girls of color in sports. Produced by Claremont Evaluation Center – with community insights from Boyle Heights and Watts Made to Play LA Neighborhood partners – the report offers program and parent engagement strategies aimed at increasing access to sport and play for girls of color in historically marginalized communities.

Research & Resources

The Made to Play LA Neighborhood initiative is focused on providing a deep bench of support for 13 sport-based youth development organizations in Watts and Boyle Heights. These resources and capacity-building activities are created and co-designed with partners to help organizations grow their programs, nurture the health of the girls who participate, and inspire stronger communities. The resources below are a collection of supportive materials that will help improve access for girls in Watts, Boyle Heights, and beyond.

Parent Engagement

“Best Practices in Recruitment and Retention for Girls in Sports: The Critical Role of Parent Engagement”: This report focuses on the unique and critical role of parents and/or caregivers in improving girls’ experiences and retention in sports and offers parent engagement strategies to help leaders and coaches create inclusive sport environments.

Best Practices in Recruitment and Retention for Girls in Sports: The Critical Role of Parent Engagement: Illustrative Guide”: The companion piece to the full report, this guide is designed for leaders and coaches as a quick reference and offers a summary of the full report and select strategies.


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