Some people would say that a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” only happens once and you better make it count. Geysel Berrios’ story is just that: a unique happenstance which has benefitted many young lives. Geysel served as a Coach Across America (CAA) dance coach at Hope for Miami, a faith-based organization that provides programs for children, youth and families in the Miami area. Unraveling her story, Geysel shared that her involvement with Hope for Miami was a mistake that she welcomed with open arms.
Geysel recalls, “I came to Up2Us Sports and Hope for Miami actually by mistake, which was a good mistake.” A friend from her church had been offered the CAA coaching job but then received an offer to go to college in Georgia and ended up leaving. “That is when I ended with Hope. I was in charge of the dance team at my church and they called me and asked if I wanted to do it and I said yes.”
Geysel’s foray into dancing started from the need to become physically fit when she was younger. She grew up as the only female in her household and to encourage her to become healthier, her uncle enrolled her in dance lessons. What started out as just an outlet for weight loss had become a passion that translated into helping youth.
As a coach, Geysel was in charge of the after-school dance activity for kids from low-income families. According to her, “A lot of the sites provide suppers for the kids because they have parents who get out of work really late or they don't even have enough money to eat or buy their meals. Hope for Miami provides food for some of these kids. After their homework, they send them to me and we start working on different dances. We do one for Christmas, one for end of the year, and one for the summer.” Setting small goals was how Geysel would teach the children to learn the dances so that they could perform for their parents and teachers.
From the day she accepted the offer to coach at Hope for Miami, Geysel showed an unending passion and commitment to teaching and coaching children. She rotated through three different sites throughout her time with Hope: one site has mainly Hispanic families, another in North Miami Beach with mostly Haitian and Caribbean families, and one was for children with special needs. The later, Geysel calls “an eye opener” for her. “With them, it was not mainly to dance but it was to get them up and moving.”
Asked what her most moving experience was, she said it was the time she dedicated to working with these special needs children. With no prior experience, Geysel had a challenging start. Armed with determination to overcome the communication barrier, she enlisted the help of her site supervisor’s daughter who, coincidentally, was a friend she grew up with. Her friend was able to help her translate what she wanted to communicate to the kids. Geysel said, “it was one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life. It got me very frustrated at times because I wanted for them to be able to understand me and to have that connection with them. At the end, they learned how to come up with little ways to communicate with me.”
Being a CAA coach has taught Geysel not to give up on anyone, especially the “problematic” children that others wanted nothing to do with. She spoke of one child that she built a special bond with and who became her friend and would follow her everywhere. “By the end of the term, you could see the difference in that child,” she shared.
Geysel also shared a tender story about Ashley, who she coached and mentored during her time at the site. “Ashley was 23 but she had a mind of a two year old. In the beginning, it was very hard for her to focus and to sit and comprehend what we were trying to do. I realized that we connected through music. Ashley became my helper. She would do what I would do with the kids. It was easier for her to communicate when she worked with me. Ashley taught me unconditional love. She taught me patience and to try do things over and over again.”
She calls the training she received from Up2Us Sports life changing. Geysel admits to being very shy and introverted at first. “During my first training in Los Angeles, I was always sticking to the people I knew, but then I was instructed to meet new people and work as a team. Everyone was there with a different mindset and different passions but at the same time we were similarly like-minded. By the time I got to Boston [for a second Coach Training Institute], I knew what I had to do. It was easier for me to meet and talk to people. I came out of my shell.“
Geysel had a career shift this past August. After three years of serving as a dance coach at Hope for Miami, she is now a Teacher's Assistant at a local school in Miami. She still continues to help with Hope in their after-school program.
Thanks to Vian Wheatley, a volunteer through our partnership with Humana, for helping us compose this inspiring story.