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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer camp profiles: Skill-building on the soccer field replaces inactivity

Written by Kyndall Brown
Communications Intern

Estefany F. is in her room packing her cleats, shin guards, and picking out her t-shirt and shorts for camp today at Marie Reed. She has been attending DC SCORES Camp at Marie Reed for the past two summers and could not envision an exciting summer without it.

“Being home, watching TV,” is what Estefany says she would be doing with her summer if she were not attending camp. She would much rather be at camp where she can be, “trying to get better at soccer, especially scoring and dribbling.”

“It’s important for me because that’s something I like to do, and that’s something that brings my family together too,” Estefany says.

Estefany sees SCORES camp as an opportunity to develop her skills for a sport that has become a valued part of her life. Soccer is not only important to her because she loves the sport, but also because of the impact it has on her family.

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Alma H. practices juggling at Tubman soccer camp. 
Alma H. is at her elementary school Truesdell waiting for the bus to arrive and bring her to the SCORES camp at Tubman. Even though the bus does not arrive, Alma and her friend do not decide to go home for the remainder of their day. Instead they both walk to camp.

Even when Alma did not have a ride to camp, she still found her way there. Soccer has become a big part of her life, and coming to camp is teaching her so much more about a sport that she truly loves.

“From camp I’ve learned how to shoot, I know how to control with my left now, and I know how to shoot with my left,” Alma says.

These are both skills she did not have before camp.

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Without SCORES camps, participants like Alma and Estefany would still be able to find time to play soccer because they both have a genuine love for the game. However, SCORES camps gives them a chance to not only play the sport that they love but also develop team building skills with their SCORES coaches and peers. At the Marie Reed Camp, Estefany gets to play her favorite sport and is able to gain more exposure to various art activities as well.

There are still two more weeks remaining of DC SCORES summer camps, both at the Marie Reed Soccer & Arts Camp and the soccer camp at Bruce Monroe. Stay updated on what we have planned for our last couple weeks of camp by following us on Twitter @DCSCORES, on Instagram at @dc_scores, and by viewing our summer camp photo album on Flickr HERE.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Alumni profile: Jennifer Cruz, heading to college, serves as role model for younger sisters

Jennifer Cruz will study at Temple University. 
Jennifer Cruz no longer plays soccer, the game she learned to love through DC SCORES.

That doesn’t mean, however, she’s not passionate about the sport. This past school year, you could often find Jennifer on the sideline at Brightwood Education Campus games cheering on her younger sister Jocelyn and her former team. On other afternoons, Jennifer stopped by Bell Multicultural High School to support her other younger sister Stephanie, a rising junior.

“It’s a lot of fun watching them play,” said Jennifer, 18. “Sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh, I want to play so bad!’ and then I’m like, ‘Aww, I’m too old.’ I like watching them play because I feel like that’s how I was when I was playing. It’s like watching an old me, kind of.

... It makes me feel good because I’m like, ‘You’re here because of me.’”

This August, Jennifer will continue to pave the way for Stephanie, 15, and Jocelyn, 13, when she begins classes at Temple University. She will be the first member of her family to attend college, and she hopes her sisters will follow her lead -- even if they’re blazing a path a bit different from hers.

“I think they look up to me at some points,” Jennifer said, “and I want them to, because I feel like I’m doing the right thing and I want them to go through a similar path as me.”

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Jennifer knows the influence a sibling can have from experience. Her older sister, Jessica, played soccer at Brightwood, and Jennifer thought the game looked fun. When she got the opportunity to join DC SCORES in fourth grade -- and play for her favorite teacher, Ms. Nelson -- it was a no-brainer. She joined the team.

After Brightwood, Jennifer continued to follow her sister’s path by attending Paul Public Charter School. Paul didn’t have the full DC SCORES program, but the school played in SCORES’ middle school soccer league.

Jennifer’s first fall at Paul, she was one of just two girls who played on the boys team. It was difficult, but there was no way she was going to give up soccer just because she had to play with boys. The experience helped her get better quickly.

“Practicing with them really helped me improve, because it challenged me to be better than them or be at the same place that they’re at,” Jennifer said.

The following spring, Jennifer got the gift of a full girls team at Paul -- she helped spark the interest -- and a similar teambuilding experience to her time at Brightwood. She missed the poetry aspect of DC SCORES’ full program that she had at Brightwood, but the camaraderie she experienced with her teammates was similar.

“At Paul and Brightwood, I felt like they were just family,” Jennifer said, “like we were all brothers and sisters. … We would do stuff together after practice, we would talk to each other or we would come to each other for advice.

“It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, you’re my teammate and just do stuff on the field and that’s it.’ It was more than that. … I felt like I was safe and they were like my second family away from home.”

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Jennifer didn’t continue playing soccer in high school. However, she used the lessons learned from Nelson and her experience participating in DC SCORES’ five-days-a-week program to excel academically.

“I felt like I did learn a lot of discipline skills and time-management skills,” she said.

At Brightwood and Paul, Jennifer learned to prioritize. She didn’t have a lot of free time between soccer practice and homework, so she became more efficient in getting projects done. School always came first. Since she spent so much time with her friends on the soccer field, hanging out in other ways could wait.

That discipline carried over to high school and to Jennifer’s junior and senior years, when she played volleyball. Her eyes remained on the goal that had proved elusive for her older sister -- furthering her education.

“I think going to college has always been a dream for me,” Jennifer said. “I felt like it’s an outlet, a way to really figure out who I really am as a person.”

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Jennifer isn’t just going off to college, to this next phase of her life, for herself. She’s doing it for Stephanie and Jocelyn, too. Armed with the lessons her older sister and Nelson imparted upon her through soccer, she understands how powerful and influential those close to you can be.

Her actions, Jennifer understands, are just as powerful as words.

“Going to college, I’ll be setting a certain standard, kind of, for my younger siblings,” she said. “It’ll be like a ‘I’m going so you should be going, too’ kind of thing.”

Jennifer believes that by being the first in her family to take this large step, it will be smaller and more manageable for her sisters.

“I want them to go, and I feel like me going makes it easier for them go, in a way,” she said.

Stephanie and Jocelyn haven’t followed Jennifer’s exact path. They both stayed at Brightwood through eighth grade -- an option that wasn’t available to her -- and Stephanie has played soccer her first two years at Bell and, Jennifer said, “She’s really good … I’m proud of her for doing that because I didn’t do that.”

Jocelyn, who will begin high school this fall, plays forward because, Jennifer said, “she runs fast. I’m like, ‘Dang, you run fast!’ She’s good at taking the ball up and trying to score.”

However, don’t let her compliments fool you. She might be blazing a less bumpy path for her younger sisters, but Jennifer’s competitive sibling motor is alive and well.

“We’re all kind of our own position and we all have our own skills in that position,” she said. “(But) I feel like I’m still better.”

Monday, July 21, 2014

Volunteers spotlight: Making a difference at DC SCORES summer camp

Oliver Steinglass (lef) and Ben Alers.
Each month, DC SCORES highlights a volunteer that has made a significant impact on the program. It would be impossible to give 1,500 students throughout the District the quality programming they receive without the help of our volunteers. To learn about volunteer opportunities, visit www.DCSCORES.org. This month we highlight three volunteers -- Ben Alers and Oliver Steinglass are high school students; Elayna Cross volunteered with her Mitzvah Corp Group -- who have made a big difference for us during summer camp.

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DCS: Where are you from and where do you work?

Ben: I was born in DC, but when I was eight I moved to Costa Rica. I moved back a couple of years ago and I am now a rising sophomore at Sidwell Friends School.

Elayna: I am going to be a freshman this fall at James Madison University and I am originally from Summerville, New Jersey. I plan to study special education.

Oliver: I am originally from DC and am going into 11th grade and I attend Washington International School.

DCS: How did you get involved with DC SCORES?

Ben: My brother volunteered as a summer camp counselor last summer and he really enjoyed it and he recommended that I volunteer as well.

Elayna: I am a part of Mitzvah Corps DC through the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and as a part of our program we were able to pick from many organizations to volunteer with for the week in an effort to learn about social justice.

Oliver: My mom told me about DC SCORES after reading the Washington Post article.

DCS: What do like most about DC SCORES? 

Elayna Cross (center) with summer campers!
Ben: That it combines working with kids and soccer, and I am passionate about both of those things. It makes it more fun to do community service in an area that I enjoy.

Elayna: This a completely different world from where I grew up, which was a very privileged town. Being in a place where sports and arts programs are a privilege and not something that is guaranteed has provided a whole new perspective for me.

Oliver: I think it is awesome to interact with kids that I wouldn’t normally interact with on a daily basis.

DCS: Describe your experience volunteering for DC SCORES. 

Ben: This has been a really positive experience. The kids are very energetic and the other counselors have been very welcoming.

Elayna: It has been amazing to see how two days can make such a difference, and how the kids already trust me and know me.

Oliver: It has been great having a leadership role at a camp as opposed to being a camper.

DCS: What motivates you to want to volunteer? 

Ben: Working with kids and helping them improve their soccer skills.

Elayna: Seeing the way something as simple as spending one day with youth (can make a difference). Social justice is also a big part of my Judaism and the reason I am here.

Oliver: I wanted to have a different experience because I play soccer all the time, but I have never used it to give back to others.

DCS: What do you like to do with your free time? 

Ben: I like playing soccer and reading. I play travel soccer for Bethesda and I also play for my school team.

Elayna: Volunteering is a large part of my free time. I started a soccer program for kids with special needs in my home, so that takes up a lot of my time. I also like to dance and play soccer.

Oliver: I play travel soccer with Arlington and I play for my school’s varsity team as well.

DCS: Who is your favorite athlete? 

Ben: Joel Campbell, a Costa Rican soccer player. I like him because he is a great player and my brother played with him on the U-17 Costa Rican national team.

Elayna: Misty Copeland, she is a dancer. She started dancing in Boys & Girls Clubs when she was younger and now she dances for a prestigious company in L.A. She has now dedicated her life to giving underprivileged youth the same opportunities she had to excel at dance.

Oliver: Tim Howard is my favorite athlete because he is a good ambassador for soccer in the U.S. because he is one of the few who plays abroad. I also play goalie, so he is an awesome role model.

DCS: Who is your favorite singer or poet? 

Ben: My favorite band is Weezer.

Elayna: Mitch Albom wrote “Tuesdays with Morrie,” and it is about how some people who come into our lives make a lasting impression. I would love to be able to say that I had that same impact on someone, that Morrie did on Mitch Albom.

Oliver: My mom is a poet and she writes children’s poetry, so I have to say that she is my favorite.

DCS: Fun fact? 

Ben: I just completed an Outward Bound trip, where I spent two weeks in the wilderness backpacking through North Carolina.

Elayna: The coolest thing about me is that I was blonde when I was born but now I have naturally dark brown hair.

Oliver: I lived in Hong Kong for three years starting when I was in sixth grade. I speak Chinese and am still taking Chinese classes in high school.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

From the ED's desk: An exhilarating first week at DC SCORES

Executive Director Bethany Henderson (right) with
Joachim von Amsberg, World Bank Vice President.
Written by Bethany Henderson
Executive Director

Friday I stood on the sideline of a soccer field cheering on DC SCORES summer campers in a scrimmage against World Bank employees, one of whom was a former soccer pro. Our campers won 3-1.

How’s that for a way to end my first week as DC SCORES’ new Executive Director?

Today is just my eighth day as part of this awesome team, but it’s already clear to me that this is a really inspiring and fun organization to be part of (if you’re a frequent reader of this blog, I’m not breaking any news to you!).

I spent the majority of my first week learning from my phenomenal predecessor Amy Nakamoto and getting to know some of the tremendous partners who contribute to and invest in our students’ success in myriad ways.

Highlights included a trip to headquarters of Volkswagen Group of America, which recently donated a van’s worth of soccer balls -- no joke! -- for our students’ use; meeting the amazing people at the Meyer Foundation, who have believed in DC SCORES’ mission for many years and have provided the capacity for the program to grow through the Benevon giving model; and a visit to the U.S. Soccer Foundation, whose partnership with us on their Soccer for Success program helped DC SCORES nearly double in size over the past two years.

I also began the process of getting to know our team - both the 15 staff members I now share an office with and our Board members, community leaders who devote much of their free time to helping us have a lasting impact in our community.

Teams drive our success at DC SCORES - in our home office and in all of our 47 schools. I believe it’s critical to get to know each and every person who contributes to a team’s success and the roles they play. That’s why during the upcoming months I hope to connect with many of you, whether in person or electronically, to learn about why you’ve invested in DC SCORES and our vision - why you’re part of our team.

I’m thrilled to be here, and I look forward to working with you!

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If you’d like to learn more about my background and what brings me to DC SCORES, please read the press release. You can also email me at bhenderson@americascores.org and follow me on Twitter @BRHtweets.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Alumni profile: Aaron Hutchins, entrepreneur and teambuilder

The memory is etched in Aaron Hutchins’ mind like a life milestone. It was the day he realized what he wanted to do with his life.

He recalls the experience detail by detail.

“One day my neighbor’s house caught on fire and his dog was chained to the back of the house, and it was the second floor that was on fire. I went and got his dog and then I thought, ‘What if the dog was inside? Would I really have gone in to get it.’ And then I guess I answered yes.

“That was it. That’s how I knew I wanted to do this.”

Ever since that day in 2012, Aaron, 17, has strove to help -- if not in as dramatic fashion. He began lifeguarding soon after rescuing the dog and now, having just graduated from Phelps High School, is pursuing a career in either carpentry or firefighting.

Whether it’s laying a sturdy foundation for people’s homes or saving others from danger, the DC SCORES alum is dedicated to serving others.

And leading.

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Aaron can't apply for the carpentry apprentice program until he turns 18 on July 26. He is waiting on his volunteer firefighting application to be reviewed.

In the meantime, he is keeping plenty busy. OK, that's an understatement.

In high school, Aaron decided to start his own business. It began with a typical job for teenagers -- mowing neighbors' lawns. However, it didn't take long before he was landscaping and then doing construction. Soon, Aaron had business cards made -- reading "Hutchins Property Improvement" -- and began taking on complicated projects including resurfacing a hardwood floor, building and painting a shed from scratch, pouring concrete, and installing a fence in a backyard.

Aaron has also continued to lifeguard, so you can imagine the amount of downtime he's had -- very little.

Understanding he couldn't complete such ambitious projects by himself -- especially on timelines satisfactory to his clients; his business cards have the tagline "Your schedule is our schedule" -- Aaron hired a few friends with similar skill sets to become part of his team. Soon, he was leading a business that continued to grow during his high school years.

"I've just been interested in construction for my whole life, really," Aaron said. "I've been living in the same house my whole life and that house was built back in 1912. Of course, there are just a few problems. When I was little, the carpenter might come out and I was always there just sitting and watching him, always really interested in it."

But where was Aaron's ability to lead a team of workers born?

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As an alum, Aaron handed out
trophies at the annual Poetry Slam!.
Aaron played soccer for the first time as a member of the DC SCORES team at Aiton Elementary School. During three years of wearing the Bears' blue uniform on the soccer field and on stage at the Poetry Slam!, Aaron learned how to be a good team member and blossomed into a leader.

He became the captain of the Bears, instructing teammates where to be on the soccer field and helping classmates with their poetry. 

"Especially since I was the captain of my team, it helped me develop my leadership skills," Aaron said. "(Now) it helps me manage my business as far as having other people work under me. 

"That kind of helps me realize what everyone wants, what I want, and what's best for business."

Aaron further honed his leadership skills when he became re-engaged with DC SCORES in high school (his middle school didn't have the program). As a DC SCORES alum, Aaron learned about a leadership team that was being formed to organize events for former program participants in high school. He applied for and was voted the alumni group's president

Soon, Aaron began scheduling meetings for students from across the city and took charge of organizing events such as the alumni soccer tournament that has expanded into a large-scale annual happening that's a highlight of the year for many.

Taking on such tasks more than prepared the young entrepreneur for his current venture.

"The (company) growth I anticipate, it wouldn't have been there without DC SCORES," Aaron said.

The leadership and initiative Aaron learned while at Aiton and built on in high school can also be applied to such experiences as saving the dog -- and taking charge every day at the pool as a lifeguard.

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Aaron Hutchins loves building. He helped build the team at Aiton during the school's early years in DC SCORES. Today, he continues to build his business -- he's currently doing drywall and painting; working on a hot water heater; and has a fence project upcoming -- while keeping his eye on the future.

He hopes to complete the one-year firefighting volunteer program and begin the four-year carpentry apprenticeship at the same time, and looks toward a future where he can pair his business cards and work ethic with a certification (or two).

And down the road, Aaron plans -- not surprisingly -- to do more building. With his own hands.

"When I get older, I want to have my company build my own house," Aaron says. "I know that, OK, I might find my dream house. But it's one thing to find your dream house, and another thing to actually build it.

"Knowing that it will be there long after me, something to have my kids look up to, (it's) sort of like a motivation to do good."

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Need construction help? Just want to follow Aaron's business? Connect with him via email at aaron.hutchins.ah@gmail.com and on Instagram.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Alumni profile: As he prepares for college, Nana Asare passes on lessons learned to younger youth



(See Nana's photo album on Flickr HERE.)

This is not a story about DC SCORES introducing soccer to a child.

No, Nana Asare would still be playing the sport had he not been in the program. He likely would be very good.

But would Nana, 18, be heading off to Johnson State College in Vermont this fall as the first member of his family to attend college had he not participated in DC SCORES? Did he imagine this would be his future even five years ago?

Nana shakes his head, then smiles.

“I’m pretty much excited,” he said recently. “I guess it feels good to know that I’ve come a long way and accomplished something.”

He’s accomplished even more than the opportunity to go to college. Read until the end to find out.

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Nana came to the United States from Ghana — he rooted for Ghana in the World Cup — when he was two years old. From a very early age, he wanted to be a professional soccer player.

That dream took a tragic hit — and could have been derailed permanently — during Nana’s second-grade year when he was hit by a car while walking across the street. He broke the femur in his left leg and fractured his skull.

His parents thought Nana should give up the game. Even as just a second-grader, he couldn’t stomach the thought.

“It was that pride and determination that I had,” Nana said. “My goal was that I wanted to be a professional soccer player.”

Since the accident, Nana estimates that he’s had “maybe eight to 11 surgeries on my left leg.” He adds, “To this very day when I play soccer at times it will kick in, it will lock itself or I’ll just get a cramp.”

When that happens, Nana deals with the discomfort. Then he returns to the soccer field, refocusing on the next pass, the next crossing ball.

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Nana has been a paragon of determination since the accident. But it took him awhile to develop the focus and discipline that allowed him to juggle playing varsity soccer and academics at Wilson High School

Nana isn’t afraid to admit it — he was hard-headed, stubborn, and full of behavioral issues during his early years at Brightwood Education Campus. That is, until he joined DC SCORES in fourth grade and met Shannon Nelson, the soccer coach.

“She became a mentor-mother figure while I was at school,” Nana reflects. “She just made sure I had the right necessary tools to learn and live the life that I want to live. To this day we still keep in contact.”

Slowly, Nana became more accepting of others and stopped acting up in school.

Nana spent five years as a DC SCORES participant at Brightwood and then Paul Public Charter School, playing soccer — of course — but also learning to express himself through poetry. This helped him develop his public speaking skills and become a leader one never would have thought possible.

“It most definitely helped me with my social skills, you know with the whole poetry sessions and stuff,” Nana said.

Now, Nana is paving the way for others.

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This summer, for the second consecutive year, you can find Nana at Marie Reed Elementary School braving the heat as a Summer Youth Employment Program worker at DC SCORES’ Soccer & Arts camp.

He also serves, unofficially, as a role model.

The kids love watching Nana bounce a ball off his feet dozens of times without it coming close to touching the ground. The high school graduate soaks up every moment with the third- and fourth-graders, fully understanding the influence he has on them.

“I take a lot of pride in it and I make sure that whatever message I send out I also in some way portray to them,” Nana said, “so that they don’t feel that what I said to them is not true or that I’m not that person they’re looking up to.

“I start choosing words more carefully and after all, they are kids and they will remember it forever. They’re not old-timers like me. They will remember it and remember it forever. I try my best to show what I say.”

Nana has taken one child, Jonathan, under his wing because he sees so many similarities to his younger self. Jonathan loves soccer. He’s also hard-headed and volatile at any moment. Nana may be headed 600 miles north next month, but his focus this July is on helping Jonathan overcome the same issues he dealt with.

“I can say that our chemistry with one another is on a good level,” Nana said. “Sometimes he can test me and I can be like, ‘We’re gonna run laps or do pushups,’ and he does it. He likes to talk about soccer a lot.

“Whenever something comes up in his mind, he’ll come and talk to me. Or if he’s having trouble, I’ll be able to straighten him out if I can, if he’s not too stuck up at the moment.

“He’s just been that one kid that I can say I’ve seen myself in when I look at him. I’ve been a knucklehead, I’ve been hard-headed, I’ve been stubborn at his age. It just takes that one person to have you under their wings to guide you the right way and you’ll be good.”

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Nana can understand why to his mentee soccer might mean everything right now. He was there. But with age, Nana has gained perspective. He still harbors hope of playing soccer professionally, but he realizes that going to college gives him a backup option.

Nana plans to major in either kinesiology or computer science at Johnson State. His career — if not playing soccer — isn’t yet mapped out, but he’s confident, “I’ll find something out eventually.”

He has many people to thank for that — his mother, Grace, and uncle, Isaac Opong, pushed him hard in school since a young age. His soccer coach at Wilson and former New York Red Bulls player, Sal Caccavale, reminded him that it better suited him to “do what you do” instead of trying to emulate the professional soccer players on the TV screen. Finally, Nelson and other DC SCORES coaches and staff members helped him shed his attitude and blossom into a leader.

They can all be proud of the message Nana now passes on to current DC SCORES participants.

“I tell them that if you like something, you work hard for it, no matter what someone tells you,” he said.