RYAA Impacts a Soccer Player

Leslie was raised in the West Side of East Palo Alto. She has been a soccer player for RYAA for a number of years and has experienced being a player, as well as a coach here. We interviewed Leslie on the impact that RYAA has had on her, as well as some of her dreams and aspirations as she graduates from Menlo-Atherton High School this Spring.

Where would you like to go to college, and what do you want to study there?

I want to go to Azusa Pacific University and I want to major in Performing Arts and minor in Psychology.

What are some of your goals with that degree?

My goals with Psychology are to help other people. I want to be a counselor and help kids that have problems with their family, or even with behavior. I just want to be there and be someone they can open up to. I had problems when I was younger that did not get better until I saw a therapist, so that’s what I eventually want to be. With Performing Arts I want to become a better singer and performer. People do not understand the guts that you have to have when you get on stage, not just to sing, but to open your heart and tell a story. It’s like I can tell my life through a song when I’m on stage, and I want to continue to do that. I want to record music, and I want to have big concerts.

How many years have you been playing soccer for RYAA?

The first time I played with RYAA, I was in 7th grade. I remember I played for a team called The Blue Jays, and our uniforms were blue and black. My coach was April. 

What were you able to learn as a player in the RYAA league?

When I first started playing, I was very shy. Then I learned that to play on a team, you can’t just play with your teammates, but you should get to know your teammates in order to bring leadership to the field. I love being the captain, not because I want to boss people around, but I just want to be there for my teammates. 

From what you have learned at RYAA, what makes a good leader?

A good leader is someone who can tell you if you did something wrong, but in a way that builds you up. I learned this from my coaches while with RYAA. In club soccer, it’s really different. A lot of times other coaches just tell you what to do and how you messed up, but at RYAA they want to teach you and serve you. So I think a leader serves, and a leader builds people up instead of putting them down all the time.

How has your experienced been being a coach for RYAA?

Being a coach has taught me so much. It is hard and you are forced to be a leader, but I love it. I have to be harsh, but sensitive at the same time. These girls bring their emotions from home to the soccer field, and it’s up to me to lead them through those emotions and make them focus on soccer. I love being there for people, and being a coach allows me to be there for girls that don’t have anyone else to talk to. I thank RYAA for opening the doors for me to be a coach. 

Tell us your favorite story from being a coach.

I will never forget this. One of my little players, she told me, “I want to be JUST like you when I grow up. I want to play like you and I just want to be like you. I just love you.” My heart melted, you know? I never had anybody tell me that. It was huge.

From players to coaches

Developing leaders has always been one of RYAA’s goals in the community of East Palo Alto. One of the ways RYAA develops these young leaders is through allowing them to coach. Many of the coaches in the Fall soccer league are youth that played in the league, or still play now, but take the time to coach a team. They plan and conduct 2 practices per week, coach during games, but more importantly they get a chance to be role models to younger kids. Moises Acuna is a 19-year-old who played in RYAA’s soccer league when he was younger, and then decided to take on this challenge of being a coach and influence youth in a positive way. He answered a few questions for us about him, his experience as a player, as well as his goals as a coach.

How old were you when you started playing for RYAA? I was 12.

What was your favorite thing about any of your coaches while you were playing? The creativity they used to train me mixing enjoyable fun with practical skills. 

What is your main goal as you are now a coach? What do you want the kids to gain out of their playing experience? My main goal as a coach is to teach these kids how to play soccer as well as how to deal with issues on the field that can help them deal with problems at home or school. I want them to gain more knowledge of the sport as well as more knowledge about themselves for example, perseverance: to be able to push themselves farther than they think they are capable of.  

What is your dream job? My dream job is to become a Veterinarian and open an animal hospital here in our community and a learning center where children can come and explore and learn about different animals as well as finding a tutoring program that can help them with there studies. I wanna be there role model showing them that no matter where you come from you can be something great and make a difference in your community. But only God can help me get there. 



Head to the Bible Club Tent!

One of RYAA’s main missions has always been community development in the East Palo Alto/ East Menlo Park areas. But it goes farther than just community development, sports and fun. RYAA’s most important mission is to develop kids spiritually. Through Bible teaching and lessons, RYAA looks to expose the community to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One of the outreach ways is the Bible Club Tent on Saturdays. Kids are encouraged to attend after their respective games, and small Bible lessons are conducted there by volunteers. April Pekary, the wife of Executive Director of RYAA Shannon Pekary, shares with us a few things about her experience as the overseer of the Bible Club Tent.

How long have you been living/serving in the EPA community?

We have lived in East Palo Alto since we were married in 1991. We’ve raised our 5 children here.

When did the Bible Club Tents start?

When we started RYAA 7 years ago, we had a vague idea that somehow we wanted to share the gospel with our community using soccer to get their attention. We started a teen girls Bible club that year on Wednesday nights, which still continues today. On the field, we began by just laying out a blanket and having a little bible club after the youngest players’ games. A friend who teaches bible clubs came to help. The following year, we spiffed it up by putting out a canopy with benches for children to sit on. Every year it has gotten bigger and better.

What have been some of the hardest/discouraging things about it?

Last year, our wonderful, faithful bible club teacher, Debbie,  broke her arm badly while playing with the kids. She was unable to return to teach for the season. Meanwhile, I had walking pneumonia. I knew we had to find a way that this ministry can happen without me or Debbie. This year, we have a soccer bible club team consisting of about 10 people. It’s been a wonderful transition. The hardest thing about bible clubs is gathering the children. So many of the parents are in a hurry to get home after their soccer games, and they don’t want to wait another 10 minutes for Bible club. Once the children come to club they seem to really enjoy it, so it’s disappointing when the parents don’t let them come. This can be discouraging, but I’m learning that it is God that draws who needs to be there.

What are some of the ways leading the Bible Club Tent has been rewarding/encouraging?

Teaching children the good news of Jesus has been awesome!! So many of them are very responsive. So few of them know anything about God’s stories in the Bible. It is amazingly sweet to see the bright-eyed children that are particularly drawn to God and want to sing and learn all they can.

How many kids usually attend?

We have clubs as small as 2 children and as large as 25 happening throughout the day, mostly as soccer games end. I would estimate 60 or more children attend club each week.