CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – Cities across central Illinois have seen a steady rise of gun violence. Now, one nonprofit wants to give the community “Hope for the Future,” or “H4F.”

“It’s so crucial in Champaign to have a program like this to keep kids off the street to give kids a place to be,” coordinator Wayne Taylor said.

The group is called DREAAM, and they capped off a five-week health and wellness pilot program Saturday with a soccer fest for kids. They’re all about early intervention. Leaders said it’s important to give children a sense of belonging, and that can be as easy as playing soccer. But the impact is long-lasting.

“We are losing a lot of life here in Champaign. How do we stop that? We cannot afford to lose any more life,” coordinator Anita Plank said.

When community members think about addressing gun violence, they might wonder where to even begin.

“It starts here with our K through second graders, our third through fifth graders,” Plank said.

DREAAM stands for “driven to reach excellence and academic achievement for males,” but for the past five weeks, a diverse group of kids was invited to learn about wellness through soccer.

“We want the children to feel like they can be confident, that they can be able, that they can be accepted, and that they can be nurtured,” Taylor said.

They say violence prevention starts early, and it starts with giving kids safety and the necessary resources for a healthy future. For the DREAAM team, it’s giving them a place…

“Where you get to have fun and play soccer,” 10-year-old Zoey said.

So far, they’ve been able to reach around 70 families. They hope to soon see that number double, or triple.

“It’s God’s work. I’m just here serving God, serving the community, serving people, doing my due diligence the best I know how,” Taylor said.

Diversity is a priority for the group. Staff members work hard to make sure everyone – whether they’re 4 or 24 years old – feels included.

“Something very important for us in the community who are white is to recognize – here are systems that are in place that are oppressive. What can I do? What’s my part in breaking those cycles and those systems?” Plank said.

The kids can see those efforts pay off.

“To all the coaches, you did your job. I hope you have a great day,” 8-year-old Markhi said.

Indeed, Saturday was a great day for players and coaches alike. Luckily for the kids, they’ve got plenty of events lined up for the future.

“It’s fun. I would go again,” 12-year-old Jalissa said.

Some of their other summer camps will cover educational topics like science and engineering, and will be open to various age groups. If you’d like to participate or volunteer with DREAAM, coordinators encourage you to visit their website.