Fredy Torres: Learning to Lead

What we believe and advocate here at RYAA is the transformational power of faith-based mentoring, leadership and development of character through positive opportunities—primarily through our sport programs. Stories of successful character development are incredibly encouraging because they testify not to our own efforts but to God’s power and goodness. One of the most crucial elements to the realization of this success however, is the willingness of individuals to take responsibility for their lives and to be open to change. Fredy Torres is one young man who not only went through RYAA’s soccer program but has also put much time, energy and hard work into making constructive and affirmative life choices. Fredy shared his story with us, and he has agreed to let us share it with you.

In 8th grade Fredy was not on a good path. There was one friend that was a negative influence and Fredy recalls he was making some poor decisions, “I was starting to get into some bad habits.” A moment of change came when a different friend, Adrian began to persistently invite him to play soccer with RYAA. Fredy wasn’t interested, partly because he didn’t play soccer and partly because he couldn’t afford it. His friend was very persistent though and when Shannon offered him to work off the application fee, Fredy decided that he would join.

“At first I was like, ‘Ahh work!’—I didn’t like it.” Fredy comments on the arrangement, but he quickly added that he noticed Shannon made him do things that weren’t too hard— gardening, picking up trash etc.—and Fredy appreciated the chance Shannon was giving him. Eventually spending so much time with RYAA meant that he didn’t have time to hang out with the friend who was negatively influencing him. Fredy credits RYAA with getting him off the streets and changing his life forever.

“Soccer is now such a big part of my life.” Yet it wasn’t always that way and Freddy remembers that when he was still learning to play, he would hog the ball and he wasn’t much of a team player. As he played more he began to change and he learned to trust others around him, to trust his teammates and share responsibility. He realized that the team had to work together in order to win and that this instilled in him leadership values. On the inner changes Fredy explains, “I was no longer a lone wolf but a part of the pack.” He continues with a hint of amusement in his voice, “Our soccer team was called ‘Wolf Pack’.”

Fredy’s experience with RYAA’s soccer program and the positive impact it was having on his life opened him up to new things. Through a class at Carlmont High School he was able to talk to venture capitalist and learn entrepreneurial skills and business which all contributing him to winning money in youth business programs. Having to do things like give a presentation at the Stanford Stadium before a full audience and five judges from places like Google and Yahoo taught him a lot about himself and about entrepreneurial skills and business. He and a team of other students won first place in a Business Plan competition through BUILD (www.build.org). A mentor provided through BUILD has stuck by him up until where he is now, acting as a fatherly figure and assisting with school. All of this hard work has culminated with him having a deep appreciation and passion for business that has landed him at Notre Dame de Namur University studying for his degree in business administration. Fredy is now a leader in his family, being the first one to go to university.

Fredy Torres is second from the left: Fredy and his team win a BUILD competition

Much of this might not have been happened if RYAA or Shannon hadn’t been there to give Fredy the chance he needed to develop his life. Fredy described how Shannon was “always there for him and always had time him.” This had an enormously constructive impacted Fredy’s life and he also described how Shannon’s belief in God influenced not just him but every person Shannon came into contact with. Even now, Fredy will attend bible studies with Shannon on Saturdays and this has been a source of hope and positive force for him. Fredy’s past and present experience with RYAA has showed him—as he says in his own words—“What separates the boys from the men.” It is exactly this type of development of character that heartens RYAA and helps to push it forward. We praise God for Fredy and thank Him for the work that has taken place in Fredy’s life.

Going to Samaria

“Oh, they won’t come to East Palo Alto.”, replied Stephanie, a student at Palo Alto High School. Palo Alto High is on the other side of the freeway from East Palo Alto. Recently, we asked local high school students who were on Spring break to come to Cesar Chavez School in East Palo Alto to help with recess (See our blog at characterthroughsports.wordpress.com). This was in response to a request from the principal of the school, asking the community to help give the students a special treat after the students were released from testing. Our director had asked Stephanie why she was not able to get some of her friends who live in Palo Alto to join us, and that was her response. 

It’s easy to ignore East Palo Alto. There’s not really any entertainment or museum-like attractions here, in fact besides the need to cross the Dumbarton Bridge or experience IKEA, many people could live their entire lives in the Bay Area without ever stepping a foot in the city.

People from outside East Palo Alto avoid coming here. Most of this may be because of the crime rate or the reputation of the crime rate, although economics and race are most likely two larger unspoken factors. As someone from a white middle-class background I’ve known quite a few individuals, Christians, from various parts of the Peninsula, who have expressed worry, concern or even downright disbelief at the thought of living here, let alone visiting during dark hours. As is true for many areas of life the power of self-preservation and fear is strong, and for people outside of East Palo Alto that power can translate into the dismissal of the 30,000 souls who make a life for themselves working, playing, learning, sleeping and worshiping here.

Today many people from the Silicon Valley treat East Palo Alto similarly to how the Jews used to treat Samaria. At the time of Jesus, Jews and Samaritans were divided along cultural, religious and racial lines that went back hundreds of years. This tension and division was ongoing since Samaria was located between Galilee in the north and Judea in the south. Brenda Salter McNeil touches upon this in her excellent book A Credible Witness (you should read it!),

“…most Jews avoided Samaria like the plague. They steered clear of it by taking a dangerous road full of hairpin turns where thieves could ambush, beat and rob them….But some Jews preferred to risk the perils of this treacherous and circuitous road rather than be caught dead in Samaria.” (pg. 40)

We catch a glimpse of the resentment between the two groups at the end of Luke 9, when the Samaritans refuse to welcome Jesus once they find out he is going to Jerusalem, and the disciples then ask permission to call down fire from heaven to wipe them out. It was in the midst of that climate, that Jesus fiercely shared the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) in answer to the question “Who’s my neighbor?” Jesus seemed to be saying: “Your neighbor includes those you would risk life and limb to avoid.”

Despite the expectations of his day, Jesus deliberately walked through Samaria and stopped at a well in a Samaritan town (John 4:1-45), to have a conversation with a woman there. Jesus was deliberately violating the strong expectations, rules and taboos of the status quo on three different levels (socio-cultural, gender and religious) by both initiating a conversation and asking for a drink of water. What were these taboos? The division of Jews and Samaritan was one, the division between men and women who weren’t married was a second, and the fact that the woman was an adulterer who had five husbands in the past, was a third. Breaking just one of these lines of division by interacting with “the other” might make a Jewish man “unclean” and could seriously throw his reputation perhaps even his life, into jeopardy. To do what Jesus did and break all three at the same time would have been dumb, hence his disciples’ anxiety when they return to find their Lord talking in earnest with some woman at the well. Jesus knew what he was doing though and more importantly, he knew God. Turns out that by the conclusion of John 4 Jesus brings greater glory to God by transforming many of the lives of the Samaritan town’s inhabitants, including the woman.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus makes a point of telling us that we will be God’s witnesses to Samaria. Why do you think he spelled that out? Why was that important? What does that mean for you?

Which neighbor do you keep your distance from? Which lines of division are you following? Which fears keep you from physically and geographically following Jesus? Where is your Samaria?

Sports During Recess Help Students During Testing

Sometimes it is easy to doubt what kind of impact we are having on somebody’s life.  But I know that God will use every seed sown to reap some good fruit for His kingdom.  A couple of weeks ago we posted comments from Cesar Chavez Academy Principal Amika Maria Maran Guillaume.  She spoke of how great it was to see the youth being raised up as leaders in their community.

One great example is Dana, who you can see in the picture is doing a great job as a leader/big brother/coach.  Two other pictures show our children having a great time playing flag football and having a race!  We give thanks to God for what He is doing in our community both in and through our youth.  We also pray God will raise up more leaders so that programs like these can grow and expand to serve more youth.