Sponsors, contributors and area families attended an appreciation cookout and groundbreaking for three new soccer fields Thursday at the Boys and Girls Club of Alma.

After several years of raising money to improve the soccer program and build the fields, the Alma club got the financial push it needed with a $40,000 General Improvement Fund grant.

Alma club director Elaina Damante organized the cookout alongside the groundbreaking to show appreciation to those who have contributed to the club and its soccer program, she said.

"Truly, I want to say thank you to everyone here," Damante told the group. "Without everyone here keeping the dream alive, we couldn’t have done it."

State Sen. Brian King and State Rep. Charlotte Douglas helped the club get the grant money and were in attendance Thursday.

Damante noted that other groups also have been substantial contributors, such as the Alma Lions Club, Van Buren Kiwanis Club and Crawford County Optimist Club.

"The community has been behind this 100 percent," Damante said.

Three new soccer fields and a small park will be built next to the club where now exists one large, open field. Damante expects the kids to be playing on the new fields by fall, she said.

Kids who attend the program are excited about the new fields.

Seth Crisel, 11, and his brother Skyler Crisel, 7, attend the club and participate in the soccer program. They attended the cookout Thursday with their mom, Regina Barnett, and their 14-year-old brother Shawn Crisel.

"We can play on a field that’s not … kinda rough," Seth Crisel said. "It’s great."

Damante and club board members also are working to develop the soccer program as a whole, she said. The program recently was expanded to include older kids and now allows ages 4-18.

Alma School District does not currently have a high school soccer program, but may start one in a few years if the Alma program is strong enough, Damante said.

"What we need to do is cultivate a program so that the school will then be able to pull from that program," Damante said.

Sean Brister, Boys and Girls Club of Alma board president, said the new fields will contribute to the quality of the soccer program by allowing for tournaments.

"I just think it’s great for the children and our community to move our soccer program up several levels," Brister said.

Damante is hoping to open the fields and park up as a community resource, she said.

"Yes, this is a Boys and Girls club, but I would like other children to utilize it," Damante said.