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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Faces of Summer SCORES Part III: Nancy C. -- A Family Affair

Written by Colin Patch
Digital Media Intern

Spending time with your caring step-father and wildly energetic little brother can be quite the task for a bashful pre-teen girl. Being on the same soccer team as them, along with the rest of your 5th grade friends, is that much harder.

However, one DC SCORES participant is managing both the new responsibility her step-father's assigned and the occasional embarrassment her little brother is quick to provide, and is growing and maturing in spite of it all.

Nancy C., an 11-year-old student at Marie Reed Elementary School, has been a participant for the last two years in DC SCORES' afterschool programs.

Nancy's step-father, Elver Garcia, joined DC SCORES as a volunteer coach that same year, and has led her Marie Reed team since. Eight-year-old brother Melvin, is a new addition to SCORES, and ignoring the annoyance of her sister, has made a presence at camp as one of the loudest and most energetic players at Reed.

While it may be the off-season, Nancy's step-father, Elver Garcia, is still eager to see his kids on the field, and gets off work whenever he can to pick up his step-children from camp.

Having the family together is something that Elver deeply appreciates, and seeing them enjoy the same game he grew up playing gives him that extra bit of joy; "I remember as a kid, back in my country, playing in the streets, dirt, everything; it was breakfast, lunch and dinner" he says.

Elver's history playing soccer in El Salvador, the country where he was born and raised, is what originally captured Nancy's attention and drew her to the game.

And while she's developed a passion for soccer similar to that of her step-father, keeping the family dynamic separate from the team has proven quite complicated for both.

On Elver's side, the biggest difficulty has come in battling the innate desire to push your child to succeed.

When asked what it's like having your kid's involved in something you love, he replied "It's a plus and it's a challenge, because I try to be fair with every kid. But, you know how kids are. They may think just because she's my daughter or he's my son that I'm taking preferences, but on the field I try to treat everyone the same. Their not family, just teammates."

For Nancy, the challenge has been in dealing with the responsibility her father places on her:
"It was hard because he was always pressuring me when I didn't work hard. And when we train, I have to be a leader because I was in it [DC SCORES] for two years and he expects me to show other people what's the routine".

With all the difficulties that accompany mixing 'work with family', there are an array of positives which have benefited both as well.

For one, Nancy has accepted the leadership role in stride and has proven a valuable player for her Marie Reed side. At summer camp, she's even learned to shrug off the humiliation she sometimes feels and serve as a role-model for her younger, more eccentric brother Melvin and the rest of the campers.

Elver, on the other hand, has found a way to continue his passion, spend quality time with family, and use sport as a method for teaching his children. As he puts it "Soccer has everything. It will teach you how to be on a team, it will teach you discipline, and at the same time it will teach you how to resolve a problem on your own".

Despite the challenges of weaving family dynamics into a team, both Nancy and her step-father are learning from their experiences and most importantly of all, keeping their family close together. As Elver mentions "That's it, my kids. I have to be where my kids are".

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Alumni profile: Ingrid Melendez overcomes great obstacles, heading to college

Written by Jake Lloyd
Communications Manager

When everything was falling apart for Ingrid Melendez, she turned to her escape -- soccer.

It was Ingrid’s 12th grade year at Bell Multicultural High School in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC, and she was overwhelmed.

Taking all AP classes was hard enough. Throw in a daily commute from east of the Anacostia River that meant waking up at 6am daily; afternoon soccer practices followed by five-hour shifts at Cactus Cantina in Tenleytown (the opposite corner of the city from her home); and no computer at home to finish papers on, and life was exhausting.

That was before she suddenly lost her uncle -- the fourth person in Ingrid’s extended family who died during high school.

“I really had so much on my plate,” Ingrid recalled recently, “but my uncle … that was like shock. I was just like, ‘This cannot be happening.’ I was just in denial about things. I even slacked off in school because it hit me -- this is not a dream, I have to wake up. It was hard going to school because I had to put all my feelings aside and focus on my schoolwork.”

All of the above would be a load to handle for anyone, but add it to the pressure Ingrid felt trying to become the first from her family to go to college and she could have been excused for slipping.

Thanks in large part to soccer, she didn’t. This fall, Ingrid will indeed be the first member from her family to continue her education past high school when she enrolls at Trinity Washington University. She will study forensics, pursuing a career that hits close to home for her.

“I couldn’t imagine not knowing who killed my loved one,” Ingrid said. “I want to bring justice to families that have no answers, trying to get DC as safe as possible.”

Ingrid will also try out for the soccer team at Trinity this August. It’s hard to imagine the game not being a part of her life.


When life was the most chaotic during 12th grade, Ingrid had three consistent positives in her life -- supportive family, a coach who wouldn’t let her walk away, and the game she could always escape to.

Growing up with two older brothers -- and, much later, a younger brother -- and a dad who coached soccer, Ingrid was constantly around the game. She tagged along with her father to weekly El Salvadorean league games at Cardozo High School. She was envious of her brother Christian, three years older than her, coming home from DC SCORES games at Tubman Elementary School.

She waited impatiently until 3rd grade, when she could join the DC SCORES team at Tubman. And once she put on her first soccer uniform, it didn’t take long for Ingrid to feel a part of a second family.

“Once you’re on a team, I feel like they’re welcoming you into a family,” Ingrid said. “They’re not friends but they’re somebody you can rely on both soccer-related and otherwise.”

Ingrid with her soccer coach and mentor, Asa Davis. 
Speaking of relying on people, fast forward back to 12th grade. By her senior year, Ingrid had played competitive soccer -- year-round -- for a decade. The game was a part of her identity, and Ingrid’s DC Stoddert league coach Asa Davis knew this.

Asa first met Ingrid when she was a 9-year-old at DC SCORES summer camp. Now, for the past two years, he has coached a girls team of program alumnae including Ingrid. During the toughest of times -- feeling depressed, sleep-deprived, and with her dreams waning -- Ingrid leaned on the support of her coach.

“The harder he pushed us, it motivated me,” Ingrid said. “(I’d think), ‘I’m doing this for my uncle. I’m not doing this for me.’ He’d be like, ‘Don’t stop, you can do it. I’ll be here to push you. We all are here and you’re not by yourself.’”

Those soccer practices are where Ingrid found the resolve to stay on top of her AP courses -- English, followed by Spanish, then Biology, and finally Probability & Statistics -- and to keep college in the equation by passing the difficult Capstone 12 class that was required for graduation.

With no computer at home, Ingrid visited public libraries to finish her homework. Sometimes, she’d complete work on her phone and then print it out at school the next day.

“It was overwhelming, but I got it done,” she said.

“Soccer got me focused. It was my distraction from everything around me. When I was having a bad day, I was looking forward to passing or touching a ball.”

Getting to do so often with her best friends made it all the more cathartic.


Ingrid, left, with members of the DC SCORES Lincoln girls soccer team where she met her best friends. 
The summer before her sixth-grade year, Ingrid’s family had to relocate. Their Columbia Heights home was being redeveloped, and becoming too costly. Moving across the Anacostia River was the best affordable option. Ingrid could have gone to a school in her new neighborhood, but she wanted to follow in her brother Christian’s footsteps at Lincoln.

And she wanted to be on the DC SCORES team there.

Lincoln is where Ingrid found her soccer community. She met Sandra, Leila, Jennifer and Anely, and they played together at Lincoln and then Bell for seven years. In August, Ingrid will be joined by Sandra, Jennifer and Anely at Trinity; Leila is heading to UVA.

Looking back on their journey, Ingrid can’t imagine being on the cusp of college and having played so many years of competitive soccer without the friends she met through DC SCORES.

“Each one of us, some of us are stronger in one aspect but weaker in another,” Ingrid said. “And when you combine us, we actually have a working team. We know what we’re doing.

“There’s always arguments and stuff, but at the end of the day we always manage to put everything aside and just focus on our game.”

There will be many more to come.


Ingrid has mentored kids for the last
four years as an SYEP counselor. 
Ingrid gets it. Sure, she says, she likes to win. Who doesn’t? But soccer has meant so much more to her that it’s unquantifiable.

That’s why she’s back at DC SCORES’ Marie Reed Arts & Soccer Camp for a fourth consecutive year as a Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) counselor. She wants to impart the many lessons she’s learned along her journey onto the third- and fourth-graders she interacts with daily.

An example -- don’t let being a girl and societal norms hinder you from becoming an all-star soccer player. Ingrid thinks back to what her father always told her -- “If you like (soccer) then go ahead; I’ll be your backbone. I’ll support you.” -- and to the lessons Asa included in practices such as trying different positions and facing new chapters.

She passes along everything she’s gained to young girls playing soccer for the first time.

“I always tell them it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl,” Ingrid said. “A girl can do anything a guy can do.”

Or more. This summer, Ingrid is also getting a bit more rest as she prepares for her next chapter as the first of her siblings to go to college. Her younger brother Dennis, 3, -- a big reason why Ingrid wanted to stay local -- could be next.

“Here is the moment,” Ingrid said at camp last week, a smile plastered on her face. “All of them sleepless nights and everything that’s happened to me throughout these four years.

“Here it is -- I’m going to college.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Faces of Summer SCORES, Part II: Vicky R.

Written by Colin Patch
Digital Media Intern

It was noon on a bright sunny Monday, and campers were just arriving to Tubman Elementary School in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC. The occasion: fields were lined, goals were in place and the final camp of Summer SCORES was ready to kick off.

Elementary and middle school students alike had come from throughout DC to participate in the five-day soccer camp. A glowing green turf field surrounded by stunning pastel-colored row houses in the bustling and eclectic neighborhood provides the perfect setting for kids to leave their houses and get much-needed exercise as well as helpful soccer pointers.

For some, it was their first experience at Tubman camp. For Vicky Rosales, a four-year veteran of DC SCORES, camp felt like a second home.

A rising junior at E.L. Haynes High School, Vicky has been coming to the summer camps regularly since the sixth grade and also participated in fall and spring programming.

Vicky was not the strongest soccer player when she first attended camp, but coaches and fellow campers were quick to make her feel comfortable and help develop her soccer skills.

And while many of her coaches and friends testify to the incredible strides she’s made on the field, her biggest achievement Coach Asa – head coach of the DC SCORES Girls Alumni Team – says is how she’s grown off the field.

“When I first came in 2012/2013 I wouldn’t say she was shy, but she was reserved," Asa said.
"Now that she has seniority, she’s more of a vocal leader; she’s like my assistant
coach on the field."

More than just an assistant coach, Vicky serves as a role model to many of the friends she’s made over the years at DC SCORES. During water breaks and down time, she is the leader of the conversation and never hesitates to reproach one of her younger friends for saying something out of line.

Now, Vicky may only have one summer left to enjoy Summer SCORES camp as an alumna, but her passion for soccer and the legacy she will leave seem certain to live on.

After interviewing her on a sticky 95-degree day in the air-conditioned hallways of Tubman, I asked her if she wanted to stay inside to enjoy the fresh air for a couple minutes longer.
“No, I want to go play soccer!” she replied with a cheerful smile. “I was playing yesterday and I hurt my foot, but soccer, soccer, soccer.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Alumni profile: Nijah Armstrong leans on influence of former coaches

Written by Jake Lloyd
Communications Manager

Nijah Armstrong wasn’t in DC SCORES for a long time, but the program’s impact still affects her today.

It’s taken her to Greensboro, N.C., where Nijah has done everything she possibly can as a student at North Carolina A&T State at the expense of rest.

“I catch sleep when I can,” said Nijah over the phone one summer afternoon, sounding anything but tired.

Nijah spends the majority of each 24 hours during the school year studying (as a double major in forensic science and psychology), leading (as the president of a business club), playing sports (on travel flag football and basketball teams), working (the night shift at the gym), taking care of her 4-year-old son Mekhi, and participating in other extracurrciular activities.

When she has “free time,” Nijah watches Law & Order or writes poetry.

“I’m just so determined to succeed,” Nijah said. “As long as I can take little naps, I’m good.”

Nijah, a rising senior, is also preparing for the LSAT or GRE as she debates between going to law school or getting a master’s in clinical psychology in a year.

No one who knows her would be surprised if Nijah does both.

So where did Nijah’s drive come from? How is she able to juggle so many responsibilities while maintaining a positive outlook?

Much of it can be traced to her short DC SCORES experience.


Nijah didn’t discover DC SCORES until her fifth grade year at Burrville Elementary School when her cousin, Brynee, told her to try it.

Brynee knew Nijah was fast, so thought she’d fit in well on the soccer field. Nijah clearly remembers being thrown into her first game against Aiton Elementary as a striker and immediately scoring a goal.

“After that, I just always would start there,” she said.

Nijah continued with the program for a little while at Kelly Miller Middle School, but it wasn’t the same without her Burrville coaches. Daryl Forte and Chiara Lee (now Mrs. Forte) made an immediate impact on the fifth-grader that extended well beyond playing her at striker.

This soccer story doesn’t go much further than that. There was a short stint playing goalie at Banneker High School that didn’t go so well -- “I’m scared to catch the ball!” Nijah laughs in reflecting -- and she hasn’t played much beyond that, but Nijah carried the lessons instilled in her by the Burrville coaches to where she is today.

“They taught me never to quit even if it’s tough -- life in general and in sports,” Nijah said.

Throughout middle and high school, Nijah had the ear of Forte and Lee. When she saw peers drop out of school or not bother with college applications, she had her former coaches' unyielding support and tough love in helping her stay on the right track.

So really, it’s no surprise that Nijah described DC SCORES -- despite her short time in the program -- as “like a bond. It’s bigger than sports. It’s everything -- the people you meet.”


After completing her junior year of college this spring, Nijah returned to the District and was on the sideline at Jamboree! May 30 cheering on her younger brother Jalen, a 12-year-old who has participated in DC SCORES at Burrville and now Kelly Miller.

Watching all the soccer games, Nijah was impressed by the skill level she witnessed across the grassy expanse at Anacostia Park. “The kids are getting so little now,” she added. “It’s crazy!”

This summer is Nijah’s “downtime” -- she’s only working two jobs as a camp counselor and at a department store in addition to parenting and beginning that post-undergrad studying.

And while Nijah is on her way to a well-rounded successful post-academic life, she still occasionally leans on the influences of those DC SCORES coaches -- such as when she needed advice on cars recently.

“They’re trying to help me find a car because I know nothing about cars. I know everything else in the world!” Nijah said with a laugh.

“They’re like family now.”

Monday, July 13, 2015

Faces of Summer SCORES, Part I: George T., little but courageous

Written by Colin Patch
Digital Media Intern

His cleats were tied, shin guards strapped, and socks pulled high.

His eager yet serious smile told of the simultaneous enthusiasm and nervousness which captured him.

Fortunately, just a few steps into the meeting room of Marie Reed Elementary School, his anxiety eased. The sight of board games and fellow DC SCORES participants talking and playing opened his eyes to the exciting week of art and soccer ahead of him.

This is how George T., the star of our inaugural edition of Faces of Summer SCORES, arrived on the first day of Marie Reed Art and Soccer Camp.

While George is a familiar face to many DC SCORES coaches and staff -- he spent the past year as a poet-athlete after school at Orr Elementary School -- this is his first year at summer camp.

Being new to camp and coming all the way from east of the river, George was understandably nervous initially. But since the first day, he has been courageous in leaving his comfort zone -- making friends and competing with players almost twice his size.

At under five feet tall, George is considered a pushover by many just because of his appearance. But throughout the second week of camp,  George exhibited grit and determination. He impressed teammates and earned the praise of Soccer Coordinator Fabien Celestin, who likened him to the world-famous Lionel Messi.

Off the field, George is an equally excitable personality -- a small yet vibrant character whose smiles and giggles are infectious from the art room to the drama stage. He is a quick learner as well, as many of his Connect Four opponents have come to learn.

George has grown to love DC SCORES for the soccer as well as the friendships he's forged.

So take a look at the first edition of our new Faces of Summer SCORES series, and share, like or leave a comment.

Your support makes it possible for children like George to get out and enjoy summer in a safe and healthy fashion!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

More than 70 kids brave heat at Kelly Miller soccer camp

Written by Colin Patch
Digital Media Intern

If you had to guess, what would you expect a bunch of third- to eighth-graders to be doing on one of the hottest and steamiest afternoons of the summer?

a) Enjoying a cold lemonade in the shade
b) Bathing in a local pool or friend’s sprinkler
c) Playing video games in front of a fan or air conditioner
d) Outside playing 5 hours of soccer with friends

Believe it or not, more than 70 young students from the DC area beat the odds and made their way to DC SCORES’ Summer SCORES soccer camp at Kelly Miller Middle School this past week.

Sweat-drenched T-shirts and frequent water breaks were the theme for the first part of the week as temperatures reached the mid 90’s, but the heat wave proved no match for the little warriors who continued to come out and even completed the more technical aspect of camp – drills which included dribbling, passing and heading exercises – during the hottest stretch.

Mid-week cooler temperatures weren’t the only reward for campers’ hard work. Wednesday brought a large donation of soccer cleats provided by local partner Leveling the Playing Field, which allowed each camper to find their own new pair to keep.

Each camper received a pair of cleats thanks
to a donation from Leveling the Playing Field
Smiles were ignited as kids dug through the containers looking for their right size – or the most trendy and stylish pair.

After everyone was satisfied with their pick, the teams got back on the field to show off both their skills and their new studs in the game-oriented second half of camp. Some exhilarating matches took place between the boys and girls in the older groups, while the youngest group enjoyed some hotly contested games of every kid’s favorite shooting game: Power Finesse.

Another highlight was when campers formed their own teams and had the opportunity to face the staff in the annual Staff vs. Campers game. Despite a slew of good matches – and laughs – the campers were unable to defeat their older rivals. The challenge remains for next year.

To culminate such a successful first week of Summer SCORES, the a large group from Mintz Levin – a charitable partner and friend of DC SCORES – came out to play and help out with the camp-culminating barbecue Friday. Some Mintz Levin employees not only joined the kids, but surprised them with their talents in scrimmages and kickball games, while others took a more stationary – but very important -- role behind the grill and serving food.

A large group of energized employees from DC SCORES partner Mintz Levin came to the camp-culminating BBQ!
Now, with the first week wrapped up at Kelly Miller, the five-week Arts & Soccer Camp at Marie Reed is already under way, keeping kids engaged both physically and mentally during the critical summer months.

Thanks again to our incredibly dedicated and always-handy volunteers, especially the huge and engaged group from Mintz Levin. Special thanks are also owed to Kelly Miller Middle School for hosting us – the impact we strive to make wouldn’t be possible without your help!