KANSAS CITY, Kan. — At 17 years old, Elizabeth Perez had just been released from jail and was on house arrest. Then her caseworker told he about Warriors 4 Wyandotte.
"I was debating if I should come, like, I didn't know exactly what it was," Perez said. "She told me it would help me a lot with my case. And it actually did once I started coming here."
Over the past two years, Warriors 4 Wyandotte has had a presence in school districts and formed partnerships with the Wyandotte County Parks and Recreation Department.
"We do a lot here. Anywhere from picking up students, doing lunch buddies at summer school, after-school programs," founder Robert Vargas said.
On Monday, the group worked with children on football warm-ups and conditioning. Former Chiefs offensive guard Will Shileds also is involved and helps with the football programs.
Warriors is a part of KCK United, a new soccer club for underserved children whose parents couldn't afford expensive club soccer prices.
They work with children who need structure – Maybe their parents are working three jobs, maybe they've gotten into trouble, maybe they just want to play a competitive sport they can afford.
41 Action News reported on Warriors' involvement when students were having a rough year during the COVID-19 pandemic. The group provided a space for children to focus on virtual learning. Many of those students were not only navigating the pandemic, but also the reality that several of their friends had been shot and killed, or overdosed, that year.
"When it comes down to it, it's a mentorship," Vargas said. "Walking life with students here in Wyandotte County. We say programs don't change people, relationships do."
Perez now is working on her GED and said she feels proud of herself.
"Yeah, actually, I am," Perez said. "I didn't think I would get this far."
Vargas said daily commitment to those relationships is the only way to turn around some of the crime and generational patterns they see in the county.
Roughly 24% of families in Wyandotte County live below the federal poverty level, according to the Wyandotte County Health Foundation, compared to 17% of families in Jackson County and 6.5% of families in Johnson County. About 41% of homes are run by single parents.
"The No. 1 thing is consistency," Vargas said.
On Monday, Vargas checked on a couple students he hadn't seen for a while, which makes him nervous. He knocked on their parents' doors and learned the boys haven't been at home, either.
But one boy's mother handed Vargas something she found in his room.
"These are shaved keys for stolen cars," Vargas said. "This is probably all the property out of the stolen cars, wallets, credit cards, IDs."
Vargas said he's able to go inside these homes because they trust him, and that's what lacking in Wyandotte.
"He knows I care about him, and he knows what he's doing is wrong," Vargas said.
Vargas hopes both boys will contact him in the next couple days, and all he can do is be there for them.
"The number one thing is tapping into these students, seeing their attitude change because I think they see hope, they see hope in their life that things don't always have to be the way they were," Vargas said.
Warriors, according to Vargas, would like to open up its own youth sports complex in its own facility.
On Saturday, the group will provide 200 free sports physicals from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the 2021-22 school year. Cleveland University Kansas City Chiropractic Health Center is conducting the physicals.
Warriors 4 Wyandotte is always looking for partnerships and dedicated people in the community to join the group.