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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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”

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