Faith, Community and Soccer Help Teen Cope


Jorge*, a 16-year-old, soccer-loving high school student, faced many challenges when he first arrived in the United States last year.  In order to escape the violence in his home country in Central America, Jorge came to the U.S. on his own, making the long and difficult journey on his own and arriving without a parent or guardian.  Once in the U.S., Jorge was reunited with his older brother Mateo in the Atlanta area, who had agreed to be his sponsor.

When Inspiritus began working with Jorge, his social worker Gayle Cruz learned that he was not yet enrolled in school.  The brothers spoke little English and their native tongue is an uncommon indigenous language. This language barrier made it difficult for them to access community and educational resources.

With Inspiritus’ help, Jorge was able to start school in his neighborhood and begin learning English.

“When he began school, he was scared.  He’s the new person and doesn’t have any friends and the language skills were not there,” says Gayle.  “But he was willing to go to school, and he’s doing well.”

Many teens like Jorge end up dropping out of school, so they can get a job and make money.  Jorge, however, is focused on his future.

“He has dreams and goals,” says Gayle.  “At one point, he told me he wanted to be in a helping profession.  He says he wants to either be a social worker or an immigration attorney.  I’m so glad he has those dreams and feels that they’re attainable because he’s in the U.S.  He says ‘I want to give back as I know many people have helped me.’”

 The support of his brother Mateo has made pursuing his dreams of education and career a possibility for Jorge.

“Their closeness as brothers is very unique,” says Gayle. “His brother was very willing to say “I got it, I’m working, so you can go to school. You do what you need to do. So he had that support.”

The brothers have faced some rough times – both with difficulties in the United States and coping with the violence and danger their family was experiencing back home.  “They’re a very spiritual family, they attend church regularly.  And anytime an obstacle comes their way or anytime there’s a hardship, they always turn to God.  And they always say, ‘God is my strength.  You know, I can only pray for God to give me strength.  But we will be okay, we will make it,” says Gayle.

Jorge is also learning to advocate for himself.   One of his greatest outlets for the stress in his life is playing soccer.  Money is tight for the brothers, so after paying for food, housing, household items, clothing, medical expenses and others, there was no extra money for recreational activities. However, a woman in the community befriended Jorge and became a mentor to him.  “She was very fond of him and was helping him connect to a lot of community resources.  Jorge was able to tell her about how he wanted to play soccer but could not afford the gear and uniform,” says Gayle. 

Inspiritus worked with the mentor and other community members to raise money to pay for Jorge’s uniform, cleats, socks and other equipment needs.

“When I first started working with Jorge, there were all of these barriers.  So I told him at the beginning, my goal is that when we’re done working together, after these three months, that you don’t need me,” says Gayle. “And he’s on his way. He and his brother have had sufficient assistance, and now they can access those resources and know how to advocate for themselves if they need something.”

“Every time I spoke to Jorge, there was always a smile on his face. He’s an optimist,’ says Gayle.  “He has his faith.  He has soccer.  And he has that emotional support, not only from his brother, but from me and Inspiritus and also from his mentor in the community.  When my time working with this family was complete, Mateo (the brother) told me that he really appreciated everything. When we met, he was in a place where many things were going wrong, and there was no one to sit with him and to guide him.  And I was able to provide that for him.”