Soccer, Immigrant Teens & Lives Transformed

Posted on March 18, 2016 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

 2016 Urban Soccer Symposium

Pope Francis Greets Immigrant Soccer Players Served by Catholic Charites

Can a white and black ball make teens feel at home when everything else in their lives has changed?
This is what Elvis Garcia Callejas, migration counselor at Catholic Charities, addressed at the 2016 Urban Soccer Symposium in Washington, D.C. earlier this week when he shared challenges and opportunities faced by migrant and refugee children – and the big difference a little soccer ball can make.

The Urban Soccer Symposium hosts community leaders and speakers from across the nation dedicated to improving the field of sports-based youth development. It includes interactive workshops focused on sharing best practices and maximizing organizations' impact in the community. In addition to the workshops, the Symposium features Capitol Hill Day, when attendees go to Capitol Hill to meet with government officials to discuss how soccer is positively impacting children in their communities. The Symposium also hosts the Urban Soccer Diploma - a special course that seeks to assist coaches working in non-traditional soccer environments.

As a fellow Central American immigrant, Elvis knows firsthand how tough life in a new land can be when you don’t know the language, the culture and the customs.  The immigration legal and social service support Elvis helps offer these teens through his work at Catholic Charities goes a long way towards healing their wounds.  But it was not enough.
That’s why Elvis lends his soccer skills and insights to La Union F.C. Cofounded by Catholic Charities and South Bronx United and with just a soccer ball and a little space, the program brings together teens who recently immigrated from Central and South America, often alone, to the United States. Most of the 40-member soccer team struggle with nightmares of violence and poverty, 1000-mile treks to reach the United States atop trains and by foot and court dates that will decide whether they get to stay.

In New York City as in Central America, soccer’s physical language of assists, punts, penalties and goals remains the same.  So does the camaraderie.  And so does the weekly escape from loneliness they experience when they run together across a warn grass field in the South Bronx.

“La Union F.C. is extremely important to the boys because it helps give them a sense of belonging and it is an opportunity for them to forget their problems,” Elvis says. “Attending the Urban Soccer Symposium gave me the opportunity to learn what other organizations are doing to help not only immigrant children but youth at risk. I hope we can continue supporting these children through soccer.”

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