October 29, 2015
Beneath the darkening sky, 19-year-old Emilio Contreras kicks a soccer ball back and forth with a red-shirted little boy at the Association for a More Just Society’s community center.
Three years ago, he never imagined himself doing this. “Before AJS started working here, there wasn’t anything good to do in our community.” Emilio, who lives with his father and six siblings in one of the poorest communities in Tegucigalpa spent most of his time at the neighborhood soccer field watching games.
But, one day an AJS mentor invited Emilio to attend an at-risk youth Impact Club. The mentors meet weekly with a group of 20 young people at the community center to learn together about values, practice new skills like screen printing and cooking, and to plan and carry out service projects in the community.
Emilio says he has learned many things from the AJS mentors but the biggest thing was “learning to value my life more, and to make goals for my future. I learned that my aspirations depended a lot on how much time and effort I was willing to put into them.”
Emilio is now putting these lessons into practice. He is in his last year of electrician training and spends most of his free time at the AJS community center, helping out with the at-risk youth groups. He explains, “I wanted to be a volunteer with the groups because my mentors really helped me, and now I want to do the same for other young people.”
Emilio is one of several volunteers who have graduated from the youth clubs but now spend their time mentoring other young people in the clubs– encouraging them to stay in school, providing them opportunities to serve in their communities, and sometimes, just kicking a soccer ball around with them.
They, as Emilio put it, “Received, and now want to give back”, providing essential relationships for young people who often do not find support at home, and giving hope to the community.