Nine years after she started an innovative soccer-cum-academic mentoring program for immigrant and refugee students, Lauren Mednick threw a party to celebrate that first group of wings and strikers’ biggest goal yet: their graduation from college.
Mu’ammar Camara, Abraham Bartoah, and Marco Olmedo were at the center of Elm City Internationals’ ninth annual fundraiser Thursday night, which attracted more than 100 friends, family members, and supporters, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal to the home of one of ECI’s founding board members, Karin Render, on Edghehill Road in Hamden.
Having graduated from Sage College in Albany, Manhattan College, and Southern, respectively, the young men were on hand to share what they have learned of college life, and to pass on the tips about writing college essays and the secrets of being successful student athletes to the nearly 30 kids now in ECI’s program.
They were also there to help raise about $50,000, which Mednick said ECI needs by the end of the summer to support the ongoing tutoring and soccer programs, as well as the intensive college prep work that features two-dozen kid-tailored trips annually that enable young student-athletes to explore their college choices.
Miguel Madrid, who is entering Wesleyan University in the fall to study engineering, said he and his immigrant Honduran family could not have managed visits to potential colleges, including a dream school in California, without the guidance and support of ECI.
“It’s been a blessing to my life,” he said. Madrid referred to Mednick and the ECI team of tutors and coaches as a second family, the metaphor that characterizes the round-the-clock and throughout-the-year relationship among the young players and their mentors that the various kids described.
Mednick’s initial insight — immigrant kids struggling with English and other subjects hit the books for an hour and a half four times a week and that earns them the playing time afterwards and a slot on a winning, competitive league team on the weekends — still is at the heart of the program.
What’s new this year is that ECI has added a young cohort, working for the first time with a group of fourth and fifth graders. That’s because “the achievement gap grows more each year,” said Mednick.
“Whether it’s soccer or cooking or sewing,” said IRIS‘s Chris George, whose Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services kids were Mednick’s first players, “providing something they did well in their home country and can do it here, it’s golden for their self esteem.”
I asked Camara what a crossover lesson might be between soccer and successful academics, and work life afterwards. He didn’t hesitate to answer: “If you put in the work, you receive results.”
Mednick said one of her great pleasures is to see how in her growing “family” of kids, the older ones continually cheer on and help the younger ones, as she does too.
Mu’ammar said he is looking for a job, and Mednick is helping him with his applications. Still, Mu’ammar insisted recently on taking Mednick out to lunch because “he is a big college graduate,” she said, proudly, in her remarks.
After college Abraham Bartoah has become a semi-pro center back in the United Soccer League, and came up from Florida for the fundraiser.
Marco Olmedo is student teaching while he is also the chief soccer coach for ECI; he is also waiting to hear whether he’s been accepted in the training program of Achievement First.