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The reading project is the brainchild of Felix Sencion, founder and publisher of Futbol Mundial, which in five years has become the largest soccer magazine in the USA. More than 1.2 million copies of its English- and Spanish-language editions are distributed nationwide each month, and the magazine is a staple in most of America’s top markets. “Our business is not only to be a good business,” says Sencion. “It is also about our community. We have to use our short time on earth helping each other, and I think our literacy and reading movement will change what’s happening in this country forever.”
Sencion, a man with an infectious and irrepressible personality, nearly saw his publishing and community service ventures disappear before they came of age. His company, Mundial Group LLC, started out in February 2001 in small offices next to New York’s World Trade Center. The terrorist attacks of September 11 destroyed the premises, but not Sencion’s dreams. Through the force of his personality and a charmed bit of luck, he got back on his feet quickly, became known as one of New York’s emerging Hispanic marketing executives, and now has an energetic staff in midtown Manhattan offices.
The inspiration for the reading advocacy programme that captured Pele came not from educators, sociological studies or community service leaders, but from the simple remarks of a 6-year-old girl in Corona, Queens. Yamilett Cortes, a shy little girl whose favorite team is Mexican club Chivas, was captivated by a 2006 issue of Futbol Mundial that carried a cover story on the worldwide Say No to Racism campaign. Little Yamilett sent Sencion a letter, enclosing a photo of herself and her own colourful rendering of an anti-racism logo. Today, Sencion keeps that letter with him at all times, and it served to start his company out on this new adventure.
“Yamilett said in her short note that she read the magazine with her father and her aunt,” recalls Sencion. “I knew right then that we could use our platform and our publication to give back something – a reading programme – to the community. She was my inspiration.”
Through the offices of Clive Toye, the former president of the New York Cosmos and the man who signed Pele in 1975, Futbol Mundial made contact with the Brazilian legend, and their forces were joined instantly. “When I first heard about this programme, 1 knew I had to be involved,” said Pele. “There is a time to play and a time to read; and what a blessing to use what I have been able to accomplish in my life as a way to help children and to give to the community. It’s an honour to be part of the reading team. I only ask God for the good health to keep the ball rolling.”
Two school systems, New York City and Miami Dade County, have already agreed to use the Read Futbol Mundial concept as pilot programmes in their classrooms. Over the summer and early autumn, lessons plans will be developed using the magazine as a launchpad for improving reading skills and promoting bi-lingual literacy for readers of either edition of Futbol Mundial. “The programme will have in-school and after-school home components,” says Sencion. “We are working closely with educators to put together material and activities that will encourage family reading time. Soccer is so universally loved by all people that we think it’s a perfect subject to encourage reading. We know that families that read together succeed together.”