Justin was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, but by the age of three, he was living in a different country. “I was working and didn’t have anyone to look after him,” says Justin’s mother, Leyla, who was the only one who could care for him at the time. For the next three years, Justin lived in Honduras with his grandmother and siblings.
When he was six, Justin returned to Raleigh, where he completed a second year of kindergarten in the hope of bolstering his English language skills. “When I was in kindergarten, my teacher gave me a book to learn the alphabet and numbers in English,” says Justin, “and I studied the whole book and that’s how I learned English.”
Regardless of where he lived, Justin has always loved soccer. “He has liked soccer since he was two years old,” his mother explains. “When he’s in the house, inside, outside, he has a ball. He loves it.” So, when the Soccer for Success program came to his local Boys & Girls Club site, Justin was eager to join.
Almost immediately, Justin formed a bond with his coach-mentor, Marcos. Marcos believes that a big reason they got along so well and so fast was because they are equally passionate about soccer. “Soccer gives you a sense of happiness,” Marcos explains. “It kind of gets you away from the problems, from anything that can be going on in your life that is bad. Not only that, but…you are able to express yourself just by playing soccer and showing off your skills and it’s just a game; it’s fun. If you are able to see it that way, then it can have a big impact in your life.”
While Justin and Marcos instantly connected through their shared love of the game, Marcos recognized another way to positively impact Justin’s life. “While getting to know him, I also knew that he was struggling in school,” Marcos recalls. “There was a way for us, as mentors and coaches, to encourage him and push him to be able to get better grades, to get his homework done, to participate in other programs that could not only build him up as a soccer player, but as a kid, as a person.”
Throughout his participation in the Soccer for Success program, Marcos noticed that Justin’s commitment to both his soccer and his academics improved. “You could right away notice that his attitude toward school was just the same as what he’d give you on the pitch,” Marcos recalls. “It was just amazing to see that result – the result of every day talking to him, not only about soccer, but about his education and the aspect of education being important.”
Marcos maintains that elements of the Soccer for Success program will prepare Justin to succeed in whatever path he takes. “Soccer for Success has been a tool for him to understand what the expectations are and what he’s going to learn in the coming years to be who he wants to be,” Marcos says.
Justin has taken his conversations with Marcos to heart and is eager to be in a position where he can give back and help others in the same way that others have helped him. “I want to study more and be a coach,” he says. “I want to be a math teacher. I’m in sixth grade now and I’m learning about shapes, like the angles of a triangle.”
Whatever he decides to do, Marcos is confident that Justin will succeed. “He looks for opportunities to improve and he follows the leader,” Marcos says. “And in a way, he becomes a leader.”
In addition to the development of soccer skills, Soccer for Success teaches participants critical life habits from trained coach-mentors. Follow this link to learn more about the components of the evidence-based program.