MetroLacrosse, the Boston nonprofit program For Which Emily Helm '92 serves as president and CEO, is, as the name suggests, something of a new idea. Lacrosse "certainly doesn't have an urban tradition," she says, and "it's no secret that it has been known as more of an elitist sport in the past."
But, she says, "that has actually been changing significantly over the last few years," and Helm herself is very much a part of that change. Working with more than 500 young people from grades three through 12 and doing organizational fundraising as well, Helm and her program run dozens of urban leagues and camps. "Kids come from literally all around the city," she says.
The discipline and teamwork developed by lacrosse are crucial skills for those young people, and the sport offers them "a network of opportunities and connections." But they face formidable obstacles simply to participate, Helm says, and she spoke about those obstacles on the Hill while taking part in a Reunions 2007 Alumni College session on sports and ethics. "It's obvious when we're talking about professional or big-time college sports what some of the ethical dilemmas are," she says, but class and economic inequalities produce a distinct set of issues. "What are some of the difficulties in participating faced by urban kids compared to their suburban counterparts? How do we address that? A lot of it has to do with access — cost and transportation are two of the biggest issues. Parents work very hard to make ends meet, and the kids are dedicated and interested in coming but may not able to get there; there are public transportation issues in getting to the field. Then there are safety issues once on the field."
Helm followed "a winding path" to MetroLacrosse that included a master's degree in education and work as a career counselor in schools before hooking up with the young Boston program as a volunteer coach in 2001. "I definitely did not set off on a specific intentional path, but I think what I discovered over time is that you really always come back to your true passions, whatever they are," she says. A 1992 lacrosse All-American who remains among the College's all-time leaders in points and goals, Helm credits Hamilton coaching and the Division III experience for shaping many of her own professional and personal attitudes toward sport. "I feel like I really learned a lot that still informs my work now about the kind of leader that I wanted to be," she says. Phil Grady, who recently retired as ice hockey coach but also served as assistant on the women's lacrosse team, "was a leader and a personality that I really responded to and really respected."
Coming out of high school, Helm wanted to combine a strong educational experience with the opportunity to play both lacrosse and soccer. "I wanted to play both sports for four years, and I knew that I would have a better chance of doing that, and also being at a competitive institution, at the Division III level," she says. "The quality of my entire experience at Hamilton was better for it because I wasn't only an athlete. I was an athlete and a student. I was an athlete and active with friends and a social community. And that's a big part of life — you need to be able to balance all of those things."
That, Helm says, provides another lesson she brings to her work at MetroLacrosse. "This is something we teach our kids all the time," she says. "It has much less to do with the level of play than it does with the quality of the experience and the lessons you learn as a result of your participation."
What she does: As president of MetroLacrosse, the Boston-based nonprofit, she focuses on fundraising, strategic planning and organizational management. The $1.5 million-a-year program has a full-time staff of 12 and now works with more than 500 young people in grades three through 12. Helm joined MetroLacrosse as a volunteer coach in 2001 and became full-time managing director in 2004.