Coach Maria

PA030624A distinctive aspect of RYAA is the young age of its coaches and referees. Youth and young adults are given a unique opportunity to engage with kids through soccer.

This year, Maria, an eighth-grade student, was one of our youngest coaches. Maria remembers how, as a preschooler, she asked an older friend what game he was playing. He told her it was called soccer and then took her under his wing and taught her what he knew about the game. As a fifth-grader, Maria heard about RYAA from friends and was longing to play, but unfortunately missed the deadline. Next year, since she had kept her grades up, her Mom agreed to enroll her and Maria played on a real team for the first time. Since then, soccer has been a major part of Maria’s life, and she has dreams of playing in college, either at UC Davis or somewhere in Florida.

This year, Maria decided to try her hand and coaching. Although she could have played soccer without working, Maria was excited about the opportunity. She remembers some initial nervousness at the prospect of coaching, but she related to us mid-season how much it was teaching her.

When asked what she has learned from coaching thus far, without hesitation, Maria answered, “coaching isn’t easy. Kids don’t always pay attention and respect you.” She has been learning to find a balance, being respectful of her players while simultaneously teaching them to respect her authority. She is furthermore learning that “little kids are small but have LOTS of energy!” Even so, she had to constantly figure out how to work them hard without overdoing it.

Coaching soccer has not only taught valuable leadership skills, but has also been a tool through which Maria was able to become more involved in her community. She sees members from her team at school every day, and is now able to greet them by name and ask how they are doing. Not only that, but throughout the season, Maria invited peers to help her coach. Those who helped out at practices and games could receive up to six hours of the community service hours needed to graduate. Many of her friends agreed to help, and a few became consistently involved.

Though she may only be in eighth grade, Maria has been an example of 1 Timothy 4:12 “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. Coaching at RYAA is not about knowing all about the game or the art of coaching; it’s not about your record or experience. It is about taking an interest in a group of kids and creating a fun environment for them to play ball. Thank you for your time and energy, Maria!

Following God – What an Adventure

P8240019Clara Wong hails from Michigan and recently volunteered for 3 months with RYAA as part of a gap year between high school and college. Below is her final reflection on her time with us as she goes back to Michigan, and likely to Honduras for her next adventure. We miss her already! Follow her blog at

Following God—what an adventure. Sometimes there is so much to say, so much that He’s taught, so much to be thankful for, that finding words is overwhelming. But I will try anyway! These past three months in East Palo Alto have been such an amazing time of growth and joy.

It probably seems foolish in the eyes of the world to coach soccer without an ounce of experience with playing soccer, let alone coaching it. And it probably is foolish. Soccer is not my strength.  But in this time, God has taught me more fully what it means that in our weakness, He can be stronger. I remember one time in particular, when my assistant coach, who has been a huge help, was last-minute unable to make it to practice. He usually lead the first half of practice, and I the second half, and I had prepared ahead of time expecting it to be that way. When I found out twenty minutes before practice that he wasn’t coming, I scrambled to figure out more activities to do, but came up rather dry. But the time came, and I had to go without much plan. I walked to the field, praying, “God, I really need you to come through tonight! I don’t know how I am going to lead this team well! I honestly feel like I really don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know a lot about soccer and I feel like I can’t improvise. Please, provide!” and He did. I asked one of the players dads, a former soccer player, if he would be willing to help out with some drills that night. He was more than happy to help and led the boys through drills until the sun was gone. I saw for one of the first times in my life what it means to rely on God. Honestly, in my life, most of the places I’ve been, I can handle everything. How many times have I said, “God, help me,” and then proceeded to do everything on my own power? But this time, God took me to a place that was actually beyond myself. I cried out to God and He provided. He didn’t magically give me knowledge about soccer or how to coach. Because He has something different in store. This is not ABOUT me knowing everything there is to know about soccer. It’s not about doing everything I can to keep from looking stupid! When I came to the end of myself, I saw a parent involved in his child’s life, and in the life of the community. I saw him engaging, I saw him living vicariously through the boys. And if I knew what I was doing, that wouldn’t be the case. God really moved that night, and it was in a great moment of weakness.

I believe that God has also begun to make me a more honest person. In my time here, I played with kids during recess at Cesar Chavez school. I quickly saw much brokenness and many kids in difficult situations. The sense of hopelessness was strong. At first, I tried to fend off this hopelessness through optimism; I would use one positive interaction or one “good day” to assume that everything was going to turn around and be alright. But God broke through those walls of over-optimism and made me more honest with myself and with Him. When I let the hurt and the heartache get to me, it really did. It was hard to believe that a few minutes of playing could do ANYTHING for the amount of brokenness in that place. It was even more hard to believe that God was actually PRESENT there. I began to doubt if He was moving at all. Turns out that place of doubt was the first step in God teaching me what it means to live in a world that is “still trembling in the wake of the fall” and yet to never forget that we serve a God who is ultimately going to wipe away every tear. We are living between the already and the not yet. Christ already did what it takes for us to live with God; but He hasn’t come back yet. He is going to bring foretastes of redemption, yes; but final redemption has not come yet, and until it does, there will still be tears for all those hurting. And our job is to keep letting our hearts be broken for the brokenness, so that we hunger more for Christ to come. Through time and many wise, encouraging people, God brought me to a place of peace, where I realized that He hears the cries of His afflicted ones and will surely finish whatever work He started. This is perhaps one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since being here.

I am so grateful for the three months I’ve had in East Palo Alto, to get a bigger glimpse of life and of the God we serve. It has been an immense privilege and I hope I never stop thanking God for it.

Youth Group from Tulsa, OK serves the East Palo Alto community

If you had visited Cesar Chavez field for the first week of our summer sports camp you would have seen 13 Oklahomans sporting matching jackets with E.P.A. in bold letters printed on the back. This team was such a blessing both to RYAA and the community as they ran a week long soccer and basketball camp for over 84 youth. The mornings allowed them to gain training on Christian community development, working with difficult kids, and other topics. The afternoons allowed them to apply that training. The leader of the group Michael Terwilliger (Twiggs) talked to me about the teams’ experience in East Palo Alto.

What were your goals in coming here?

We had a few goals in coming here.  One was to join Jesus and the people that He is using in this subcultural context to see biblical mission lived out.  In order to do that we would try to encourage the Pekarys and other Jesus followers to continue in reaching the lost, discipling the new believers and sending out the maturing disciples with the message of the Gospel to impact individuals, homes, communities and the world.

What were some of the most memorable moments of this trip?

One memorable moment was the night the student team had a 10:00pm Starbucks craving and went out to a local shop.  Upon finishing their drinks they felt it appropriate to make a tunnel of hands and arms and make any passers by use the tunnel as they were cheered for by our team.  One of the pedestrians was Gene.  Gene had just recently returned from deployment and was now a homeless vet bound to a wheelchair.  After telling us that he was a practicing Muslim, we had all sorts of non-religious conversation with him and at the end of our time Gene asked us(told us) to pray for him.  Without a moment passing the team surrounded him and placed their hands on him and began to pray.  At the end of the prayer Gene asked us if we would do him a favor and take him to church with us in the morning.  We agreed.  Early the next morning we picked him up for church and was a little late getting there.  We ended up sitting center isle last row.  The message was on the rich man and Lazarus.  At the end of the message when all were asked to stand, two of our team remained seated next to Gene who demanded that they stood up.  Putting on his gloves he said that the two needed to stand because he was going forward to give his life to Jesus and walk away from being a Muslim.  It was an incredible moment.       

What encouragement would you give to other people who might want to volunteer with us?

I would tell them that it is a great place where they can live with and serve a predominately Latino group of youth and families under the umbrella of a family who has been doing this type of ministry for over 20 years.  They also will be able to work alongside the next generation of disciplers already in place sharing the gospel with youth and families of EPA.  Training sessions that they provide allow for some fresh perspective on what mission looks like and how it works in small communities.

You are the first youth group I have ever heard of, who has come on a mission trip to East Palo Alto. Most of this is probably due to the reputation that East Palo Alto has as a violent city. Why did this not deter you?

We try to model what it looks like to “go” to our youth here in Tulsa.  We operate from a definition of mission that offers a challenge, adventure and reward that we encourage the youth to pray about.  We were not deterred, because all who went on this trip sensed the Spirit of our Lord leading them. 

How have you seen members of your team grow and learn from this experience?

Team members have grown in their understanding of what their relationship with the Lord looks like and how and when they “need” Him.  They have grown in their relationship with other team mates by living in close quarters together, working with a common goal and purpose, and serving each other and the community they have been called to.  They have learned what it looks like to relocate and “live among the people” they are called to serve and point towards Jesus.

What are some of the challenges that your team faced?

Some of the challenges were exercising discernment in certain situations that dealt with “giving” to those in need.  They had time to discuss and practice and see things put into practice pertaining to how best to help people who have needs.  Another area of challenge was how to become enmeshed with another team of leaders in a personal healthy unified way and not just operate together but in autonomous teams.  These were some challenges that after our debrief have proven to be beneficial to their growth in understanding more of the Kingdom of God and their place in it. 

A couple weeks after this interview, I talked again with Twiggs. He was happy to report that the youth who went on the trip have begun to see their own communities with completely new eyes. They now see that opportunities to serve the Lord and help the needy are all around them. The boys in the group have recently started playing basketball every week with some guys at a neighborhood park with the intention of sharing their faith and discipling them. The girls from the group are going to be juniors next year, and are already making plans to befriend and disciple underclassmen at their High Schools.

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A Conversation with Glen Bethel

Glen with the paint machine.

This is a repost from a previous newsletter. Wanted to get this online. Glen is still working hard for our community, and this article barely scratches the surface.

Glen Bethel is one of the most important members of the RYAA community, but he wouldn’t tell you that. His unassuming, casual exterior belies the industrious and  focused disposition that lies beneath.  RYAA’s extensive athletic programming would not be able to exist without a foundation; Glen provides the glue that helps that foundation to exist. The repair, maintenance, and oversight of the sports fields that RYAA uses is an extremely daunting task that is far more difficult than it may sound.

Glen’s father has a certificate for being a fifth generation Wisconsinite. Growing up in Wisconsin, Glen found a passion for the sciences and began to study chemistry at the University of Wisconsin. Soon, he began working as a chemist helping to manage the laboratory there with Torelir Bilstead. After two years, he came to California, where he made his way to Palo Alto. He finished his studies in electrical instrumentation at Foothill College, and then began working for the City of Palo Alto at their water treatment plant.

One way Glen developed his passion for athletics was through his love of cycling. Glen rides on average about fives days a week, with a minimum of five hours a ride. One only needs to look inside Mr. Bethel’s garage to see how serious he is about riding; the walls and ceiling are covered with bicycles of all kinds and sizes. For about twenty-five years, Glen rode to work as well, until his recent retirement. Often, he’s ridden to the coast or cycled off-road at Montebello. Cycling affects all the facets of life for Glen; he is able to work and think better on the whole because of the outlet provided for him in the saddle.

Glen began maintaining the fields because he simply saw a need that he could help with. Because of the heavy use, and lack of funds, the local school district was not able to maintain the fields at a level needed for safe soccer play.

Glen began by making adjustments to the watering system, and eventually learned to make sprinkler repairs. Thanks to a generous gift from Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, he was able to obtain an industrial lawnmower to ride and cut the grass properly. He also makes sure there are enough trash cans on the field so that at the end of the day, there is less trash on the field than when we began. Some days, he focuses on the perpetual gopher problem, and has become our expert on gopher control.

Glen organizes volunteer groups to help maintain the fields as well. He has devised a system that starts with aeration, then is followed by seeding and fertilizing.

Glen is especially proud that his renovations have helped to create a sense of community pride. Teams from out-of-town who come to play here have an immediate first impression of quality and care, and remark at how great the fields are. This, in turn, sets a standard for the surrounding communities to match, helping more than just RYAA and its field. His work also directly benefits the school, whose children use the fields for PE, recess and athletics.

Glen Bethel is an incredibly humble and sacrificing member of our team. We can’t praise him enough for his concern and dedication to our community.

Meeting the LEAD interns: Yuslivia

The first thing that struck me in our conversation was that Yuslivia was remarkably articulate and mature for her age. Several times I felt like I was speaking with a sophomore in college, instead of a junior in high school. In hindsight I shouldn’t have been that surprised, all of the LEAD interns up to this point had been mature for their age.

Yuslivia is very much a humanities person. She writes for the newspaper at school. She is enjoys english and theatre classes. She likes reading—a lot.

“I’ve moved around a lot in my life. Moving opens you up to a lot of new things. I’ve always felt that that is good—hard—but good.”

However children are Yuslivia’s biggest passion. She discovered this passion while helpin her little brother with his homework. One thing led to another and she found herself tutoring at St. Francis to two times a week. As she’s begun to imagine what she wants to do with her life, she has discovered her tutoring and time with youth has  given her a desire to be a third grade school teacher.

In order to become a teacher Yuslivia aspires to go to university in L.A. She thinks it would be just far enough away from her family for her to be independent but close enough that the environment and people aren’t too different.

Her own teachers have been very encouraging in this newfound desire to teach third graders and it was this love for children that led Yuslivia to help with Bible club at the Pekary’s house. April was giving her a ride back to her house one day and told her about LEAD. It sparked her interest (especially the part about working with children) and she decided to apply. She looks forward to being challenged in making new friends, gaining skills to be a become a better leader and learning to help kids grow.

Meeting the LEAD interns: Lupita

How did you first hear about RYAA?

Two years ago I decided I wanted to play club soccer. I started with one team here in East Palo Alto and then I met Shannon. I really like Shannon. Once I asked him for help with my homework and he said. “Ok, but I only have 45 minutes” Because he had to go do yard work. We finished three hours later! I coached soccer once and Shannon told me that I should apply to LEAD. I really like

What do you like about soccer?

I like competition. I also really like running. But I like running as a part of a game!

Where do you go to school?

Eastside College Prep here in East Palo Alto. I’ll be a senior next year. My school is great. They are very supportive and they want me and my friends to succeed. 

What subjects do you most enjoy?

I really like studying science like biology and chemistry. Maybe I like biology a little bit more. I used to like math but it’s gotten a lot more difficult lately. I really like doing the biology experiments. I also really like the outdoors, nature, hiking and animals—especially when we do dissections. It’s cool to see how complicated our world is.

Are you hoping to study science at college?

No, I actually want to study communications. Maybe somewhere like St. Mary’s College.

Why Communications?

I think it would give me the skills to achieve my dream. I want to open a school like [the school she attends] but I would start at kindergarten and go through high school. I know it would be a lot of really hard work. But it’s really important to me and I’m determined to work on it. That’s been something I’ve actually been learning recently: if I Iset my mind to something and work hard, I can do it.


Why do you want to open a school?

I enjoy working with kids. I’ve appreciated my school and think it’s important to see more of them, but I don’t want to be a teacher. I’ve been volunteering at the Girls2Women program since I was a freshman. I’ve been organizing games and spending time with them and they have helped me to remember the important things in life. 

You must be looking forward to LEAD then.

I’m very excited for LEAD. I think I have a lot of patience so kids listen to me when I talk to them. I’m excited to see how I will grow in the classes and I look forward to working with other LEAD interns and getting to know them better.