Youth + Sports + Dedicated Police Officer = T.U.F.F. “The Ultimate Family Foundation”

Virginia Beach, Virginia is known for its beautiful beaches and boardwalk along the Atlantic Ocean. And, like many American cities, it is filled with children living in poverty and violence. It is also home to a remarkable community program for youth at-risk created by a Master Police Officer in the Virginia Beach Police Department.

037-vs. steelers playoffs 142 - CopyOne Saturday afternoon in 2007, Master Police Officer David Nieves and his wife, Nayla, took their excited 12-year-old son to his first practice of the Green Run Recreation League football team in Virginia Beach, VA. They arrived to find 12 other waiting children in total disarray, with no coach and no plan. In quick order, Officer Nieves also became Coach David, and Nayla Nieves became chief organizer, volunteer recruiter, cook and cheerleader. The nervous 12 year olds became The Spartans who soon won the Recreation League Football Championship of Virginia Beach.

Master Officer Nieves also quickly determined that these at-risk children needed to know more than the basics of football. Many of them lived in families teetering on disaster. He and Nayla developed a full program of goal setting, community service and building self-esteem for the team. Some children needed food, shelter and tutoring at points during their four-month season. Providing for these basic needs were also incorporated into the program.

Season begins with a camping trip, 4 days of waking before 5 AM to run on the beach at sunrise, team exercises and nutritional instruction. In order to earn their football jerseys, team members also plan community service activities to perform once the camping trip has ended.

“We try to instill in these youngsters that they are valuable kids, “ said Master Office Nieves. “They can make a real contribution to their neighborhood just by picking up trash and cleaning up empty lots. And their parents and younger siblings often join in.

“Once the boys get their Spartan jerseys, they know they are wearing a real sign of respect for the community and a commitment to their team,” he said.

Now an organization of 200 kids and more than 35 adult volunteers, TUFF helps children deal DSC_0020with issues such as single parent homes, anger, hunger, loneliness, gang recruitment, homelessness.  It also takes children on field trips to their state capital, Richmond, to meet their delegates and to learn that they, too, can look to a future of a being a member of the House of Delegates. All they have to do is live the fundamentals taught by their coach.   This extraordinary program, begun by a police officer and his family, has garnered The Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge National Award. TUFF has applied for 501(c) 3 status.

Not incidentally, the Spartans have won 13 combined football championships from all age groups since 2007. Watch them win a championship by clicking here.

Strategies for Youth salutes the vision, commitment and humanity of Officer David Nieves and his volunteers for the community-building they’ve achieved with young people and the communities of Virginia Beach.