Pepsi Refresh feature

Earlier this month Major League Soccer put out an edict to its teams to put together an idea that would benefit their community as part of the league’s Pepsi Refresh Project. The goal for the league’s 16 clubs was to have fans vote for their idea the most, with the highest vote getter receiving $50,000 to make their idea a reality.

Immediately the Chicago Fire Soccer Club saw a local need that the $50K grant could benefit: The Chicago Public School district. Existing as the third largest public school district in the country, CPS has one of the highest dropout rates in the nation at close to 50%.

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With the grant money, the Chicago Fire Foundation would hold the Chicago Public School Health, Wellness and Education Festival, to provide 10,000 CPS students with the health screenings and Back-to-School kits they’ll need to have a successful school year.

“We’ve been well aware of the challenges CPS faces,” said Chicago Fire Foundation Executive Director Jessica Yavitz. “With a grant like this where the whole community can get behind us and vote, we felt it important to use the money to help benefit and provide for the largest number in our community [that we could]. We think this grant can drive students to have a successful year as CPS works to keep kids in school.”

One district school that would benefit greatly from the idea is Irene C. Hernandez Middle School located at 55th and St. Louis in Gage Park.

“This is a high poverty area that serves as a port of entry for immigrants from many countries,” said school Principal Minerva Garcia-Sanchez. “Many people come here with their families to find work and now many are struggling to find jobs. With that, there’s difficulty for a student whose parents are looking for work to pay a $40 fee to cover school supply costs. While we tend to provide free materials for them, this grant money would be welcome in helping provide students with a more equitable education regardless of their financial background.”

Garcia-Sanchez also thinks the student health screenings and immunizations will serve in an area that is pricey but are required by state law.

“Sixth graders are required to have immunizations and medicals done in order to begin their year. We also do this for the eighth graders because they need to be prepared for high school. With children, the older they get, they tend not to get the immunizations and medicine they need. Having those services available here -- the likelihood is that they’ll get those things done – they’ll be healthy and in school on a daily basis which benefits their performance and going forward, our community.”

Chicago Fire defenders Dasan Robinson and Deris Umanzor visited Hernandez Middle School earlier this month to help encourage students starting the school year. Long a champion of education, Robinson has been impressed with the club’s 2010 Back-to-School efforts.

“I think it’s very important to give them the tools that allow them to learn as much as possible,” said Robinson. “Books, school supplies, health screenings – these are the things kids need to learn so they can fulfill their potential. We’ve been asking for supply donations this summer and now the Pepsi Refresh idea could be a big boost in helping a number of students in need.”

While initial efforts behind the Chicago Fire’s drive to help win the grant for Chicago Public Schools in the league’s Pepsi Refresh campaign have been successful, polls run through September 20. Fans are encouraged to vote 25 times a day at and share the voting link with friends and family in order to put the club’s idea into action.

Vote today. 

Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall