WATSONVILLE, Calif. (KION) A Watsonville-based nonprofit that uses soccer to keep children off the streets is looking to expand its reach and membership by finding permanent homes for players.

“I’ve been playing since I was a kid. It helped me get distracted. When I have personal problems, I can just put everything on the ball,” said Edwin Lopez, a member of Aztecas.

Using a mentoring model for the sport, Aztecas Youth Soccer Academy is primarily aimed at children and youth who have been in trouble either academically or legally.

The aim is to lead them back to success through tutoring and training for employees. The nonprofit plans to expand by first landing a clubhouse to call home.

“At the moment we don’t have a place where we can give tutoring or meet for counseling or other meetings. That’s why we’re in a small office,” said Gina Castaneda, the founder and director of Aztecas.

Congressman Jimmy Panetta’s office learned about the program and financial needs. He encourages the Aztecs to apply for $ 1 million to $ 2 million in federal grants.

“They don’t have the infrastructure that should be in place, especially for a group like this. Hopefully we can find something in Washington DC on our funding sources,” said Rep. Jimmy Panetta.

More money could help more youth like Watsonville Police Officer Adrian Alvarez, who played soccer with the Aztecs. It is his story as a mentor in the program that inspires many more.

“A lot of kids have completed the program successfully, they went to college and graduated. So did I. It put me on the right path,” said Alvarez.

PREVIOUS ARTICLE: Rep Jimmy Panetta visited youth soccer players in Watsonville Thursday to show support for more federal funding for local sport.

The non-profit group Aztecas helps teenagers play soccer and stay off the streets and avoid trouble.

Find out more about the team here: https://www.facebook.com/watsonvillepolicedepartment/videos/507193850031697

Josh Kristianto from KION will have more at 10 and 11.