After success in Africa, Open Field launches programming in Pittsburgh |
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Tom Davidson

Soccer’s more than football.

It can — and has — made a difference in people’s lives, thanks to enthusiasts like Justin Forzano.

In 2010, Forzano founded the Cameroon Football Development Program, a non-profit that uses soccer as a means to help youth in the central African nation.

On Saturday, the organization rebranded itself as Open Field, a remaking that means it will take the programs that have worked in Africa to the Pittsburgh region, Forzano said.

“The model that has helped in Africa can work in Pittsburgh,” said Forzano, 34.

He lives in the city now and grew up in Wheeling. While studying to become an engineer, he spent time in Cameroon and saw how important soccer is to the culture there.

People work long, hard days there, but each afternoon they gather to play and watch soccer.

It inspired Forzano to start the Cameroon Football Development Program, which uses the Sport for Good model pioneered by Laureus, a global organization that does similar work elsewhere.

It’s a youth-led, community-based approach that uses soccer as a starting point in helping youths. Older kids mentor younger ones and they work to translate the passion they have for sports to other, less exciting things, like completing homework assignments, Forzano said.

It’s worked in Africa for nearly a decade, and now Forzano is hoping it can make a difference in Pittsburgh, where Forzano says the demand for soccer programs is growing.

“For us, it was like a no-brainer,” he said.

Open Field is celebrating its kickoff at its Party in the Park event at 3 p.m. Sunday in Schenley Park and will be offering programs throughout the summer.

It’s getting support from the Heinz Endowments and PNC Charitable Trusts. Forzano’s hope is that Open Field can expand into other areas of the nation and world.

“To become an international organization with our roots in Pittsburgh and Cameroon,” Forzano said.

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