It may be baby steps, but Keith Miller is seeing the impact.

Miller, operations manager for the Salvation Army Boys’ and Girls’ Club in Greensboro, N.C., secured a diversity grant from US Lacrosse last year, designed to support lacrosse programming for the club’s youth. The funds enabled Miller to enroll 12 boys in the local Triad Youth Lacrosse Association’s fall ball program.

Among that group was Darrell, a 10-year-old who club volunteers were trying to assist in overcoming anger issues. That’s where lacrosse intervened.

“We saw a real improvement in his behavior because lacrosse served as his incentive to change,” Miller said. “He did really well in the fall program and wanted to continue playing.”

Small steps, perhaps, but it's progress in a positive direction.

“Connecting people that are traditionally outside the lacrosse community is a primary focus for our diversity and inclusion efforts,” says Eboni Preston-Laurent, senior manager for diversity and inclusion at US Lacrosse.

Lacrosse has become one of three sports options the Salvation Army is able to offer the kids, along with basketball and soccer. Prior to the grant from US Lacrosse, the club had only offered introductory clinics to interested youth, using soft lacrosse equipment.

The grant helped the club provide the players with full equipment prior to their fall ball experience.

“They were super-excited when they saw the gear,” Miller said.

Miller notes that the majority of the kids that join the Greensboro club are considered to be living at the poverty level, and many struggle with their academic work at school or their behavior. To meet these challenges, the club functions under three main priorities: providing academic and career assistance, developing good character and leadership skills, and healthy lifestyle choices.

He notes that lacrosse appears to be helping in at least two of those three areas.

“We want these kids to come to the club as often as possible, and having fun options helps,” Miller said.

A recent donation is being used to grow the Salvation Army's physical space in the near future, including the addition of a full-size field that Miller hopes will allow the club to expand on its offerings.

“Our goal, eventually, is to develop our own teams,” he said. “As a volunteer-driven organization, finding coaches is one of the challenges that we face. But we’re always exploring new relationships and trying to partner with external groups...It will happen.”

Fostering Diversity in Lacrosse

US Lacrosse is committed to improving, encouraging and empowering the development of lacrosse participation in underrepresented communities, and created the Diversity and Inclusion National Grant Program to support that mission.