David: Programs for Teenage Youth

David, a refugee from Liberia, arrived in Syracuse in 2004. Like many Liberian people, he left his family behind for the opportunity to go to school in a safe place, and lived with another Liberian refugee. From the beginning, David had a difficult time fitting in, both in school and in his northside neighborhood. He had few positive role models. It took a long time for him to feel comfortable living with his new family. The only thing they had in common was that they were all from Liberia. Learning to respect a guardian that was not his mother or father was a challenge.

One of the few places where David felt safe was at the Northside CYO Teen Program. Although the center certainly had its share of conflict between refugee groups and American-born teens, most participants were willing to put their differences aside during program hours. David had a short fuse, and when anyone came close to insulting him, his first instinct was to fight. He would often get into trouble and was occasionally suspended from the teen program.

For many years, one of the unifying activities at the center has been soccer. Although the gym at the center is small, the teens make it work. Watching them organize themselves is impressive. There’s very little staff involvement in the soccer games. The players divide into teams entirely on their own. There isn’t any regard for age or ethnicity and the teams are almost always evenly matched. Within this context, David became a leader, someone that nearly everyone in the teen program respected. A few years ago, he would have used any excuse to jump into a fight. Now he is someone who helps prevent them.

David still has some time left in the teen program before he begins college. Soccer will continue to be a major part of his life. Playing soccer at the college level is one of his goals, and he has a good chance at earning a scholarship. David has learned that soccer can be a doorway to many other opportunities.