New Haven immigrant family finds soccer bridges gaps, opens doors
|By Mary E. O'Leary, New Haven Register, Conn.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Lucky for the Bartoahs,
Mednick, with a small group of friends, has mentored 11 boys on the soccer field and after school on their academics, using the sport as a way to engender confidence that has seen all of them now, seven years later, attending college as freshmen and sophomores.
The young men, whom she has worked with since they were 11- and 12-years old, are either refugees helped through Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in
Among them is Abraham Bartoah, who upon leaving a refugee camp in
Abraham got his first taste of America at the
Recruited to play soccer at
That spring, when she first met the Bartoahs, she got them and another boy she knew through IRIS, Mu'ammar Camara, involved in a recreational co-ed soccer team for fifth- to eighth-graders.
"They were phenomenal. We were undefeated. I think our worse game was an 8-0 victory," Mednick said.
When the program was scheduled to be eliminated the next year, she knew she wanted to find a way to keep them together playing soccer.
Just appointed director of New Haven Youth Soccer, she agreed to take that job only if she could start a spinoff team for the IRIS kids, which is how Elm City Internationals came about.
"Our goal is to really find our kids strengths and really find the resources for them. We do work a lot one on one with them on academics, mentoring and college counseling," Mednick said.
Mednick and her friends would get together with the 11 boys for an hour and half of soccer practice a few times a weeks, particularly from November through April, followed by two hours of tutoring on school work. The boys had access to phone numbers and emails to their mentors and often the school help was one on one or in small groups.
"They could make an appointment at any given time during the week to get personal help on whatever assginment they needed help with," Mednick said. She estimated she put in about 20 hours a week on the program in addition to working either full-time or going to graduate school at
Each spring, Mednick said they would send the kids to more elite teams.
Under this arrangement, Abraham, Andrew, Mu'ammar and
This way, they would get to travel around and be seen by college coaches, Mednick said. "All of these teams come together as showcases. It's really a way of exposing our kids," she said.
"We are not experts in every area, particularly in soccer, so for someone like Abraham, his current coach (at
All of this has paid off and Abraham, now 19, has just been recruited by
"When I first met Lauen, everything changed for me. It really impacted my life, my school work. She helped me a lot getting in touch with coaches, getting trials with them," Abraham aid.
Playing soccer as a kid in
Abraham is one of two players with full scholarships to college. He has an athletic scholarship to
Mednick said all the boys in her program had good grades in the
Four of the boys now are at
Mednick said having four there has made the transition for them easier even though in terms of ability, they are probably Division I and II players.
"Most of our kids could play the high level college, but the goal wasn't really to make them professional soccer players," Mednick said. "It was to use soccer to have them succeed in the rest of their life and I think they see that and they made that personal choice," she said.
The exception is Abraham, who in addition to succeeding academically, performs the sport at a whole different level.
"It is a passion that keeps him motivated in life, but it is also something he can attain," she said.
Mednick is now working part-time as a tutor for homebound students in
She said the current 11 weren't challenged enough in school and found the level of writing expected of them in college daunting.
To this end, they will add about five extra hours a week of supplemental work and implement a new reading and writing curriculum year round. Last year, they also started a book club where they read together, with the first book, "A Long Way Gone: Memories of a
Mednick is looking for about
Mednick said it is impossible to expand beyond the dozen students they had and continue on a volunteer basis. Still, it won't be a huge program with 12 to 15 the first year, then a dozen more in the second year and five or six after that.
She said the older kids can act as mentors to the new recruits.
They will also continue raising money for scholarships to fill the gaps between what the colleges are giving the boys. Through private fundraising, they have been able to give out between
The solid group of volunteers she has depended upon include
The volunteers are friends of hers from the community with a love of soccer who got hooked on the program after forming bonds with the boys.
"I will say this from the bottom of my heart, and I think most of the kids would portray the same sense of sentiment -- it is really more of an extended family at this point," Mednick said.
Early on it was evident that Mednick would be working with kids who needed extra help. She started a mentoring program in
Abraham will be in school through July but will also play for a semi-pro team in
She is looking ahead and pleased that her sons, who include two older boys she was able to send for later, are all in school.
"I like that. At least they get to understand themselves. They get to know their right, they know what's wrong," Dahn said in her apartment in
She credits Mednick with that outcome.
"I really appreciate her effort. She is really the one who made them want to go to college right after high school. Don't go to work first. Maybe if it was I alone telling them, they would not listen to me, but with her effort, it was very good," Dahn said.
Mednick keeps in touch with the 11 boys at least weekly, and they and the other volunteers see each other at holidays.
"I cry almost every day thinking of their accomplishments. It's really amazing to be able to see these kids turn into young men. It is so cool when they come back to see the really amazing things they are doing all by themselves," she said.
Abraham said simply.
"She is one of the best people I have met. She is one of the good people," he said.
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