From Combat to Coaching: How One Miami Veteran Is Making a Difference in His Hometown


For the kids in the soccer program at enFAMILIA in Homestead, Florida, they see Jacinto Molina as a coach, a mentor, and a friend. Having grown up in the same community as many of enFAMILIA’s participants, it has been easy for Jacinto to develop a close connection with many of the kids in the program, and sees this coaching opportunity as one to make a difference in their lives. After serving as a Marine Corps Corporal for four years, Jacinto went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology from the University of Miami - a school that he dreamed about going to as a child, but never thought he could. After graduating, Jacinto began working as a tutor for enFAMILIA, which provides counseling and other services to families of migrant workers in the Homestead community. A coaching opportunity within enFAMILIA came up, and Jacinto eagerly accepted the position.

Coincidently, this coaching role worked with the youth from Jacinto’s childhood neighborhood, so he immediately felt a connectedness to the program and to the kids. Jacinto understands to importance of the presence of a positive influence in the lives of these kids: “I see myself in these kids that I am serving, and I know their parents work long hours in the fields.” His mother, a significant mentor to him, worked long hours in the fields and nurseries, often sun up to sun down, to help support Jacinto and his sister. He knows firsthand the importance of having an adult role model around to help keep them out of trouble. His mother wasn’t able to be around to keep an eye on him and he admits he took advantage of that; he skipped school and experimented with risky behavior. When his mother found out, he was so distraught that he had disappointed her so much that he left school and entered the Marines, hoping it would help get him on the right path towards future success.

Jacinto attributes much of the success he has as a coach to his time as a Marine, and believes that what he learned in the Marine Corps has equipped him to be a strong leader - not just as he was with his fellow Marines, but now for the children who look up to him. He is able to teach the kids to push themselves and show respect - for others and for themselves. He constantly shares stories with them about how he was as a kid and points to examples of where he made poor choices - and how they have the opportunity now to make better choices. He brings in guest speakers from all walks of life to share their stories and inspire the kids in a multitude of ways. “It's not a coincidence that most of them say the same thing,” Jacinto says. The kids are consistently shown living examples of how people made it out and have gone on to great success in their lives. Jacinto takes pride in being able to empathize and sympathize with the kids he coaches. “I tell them that I was in their shoes once, and tell them to look where I am today,” he shares. His ability to directly relate to the kids makes him a credible messenger to them, and allows him to encourage the kids to stay motivated and focused on their goals.

I have so many players that have not had easy lives, and you can see it in the sport.

Jacinto attended an Up2Us Sports’ Coach Training Institute in Chicago shortly after joining Operation Coach. His first comment about it was that it was “more fun than military training.” This training offers an opportunity for newly selected coaches from all over the country who share the same passion for coaching and mentoring, to come together and participate in four-day intensive training that teaches them skills that allow them to better serve their communities. Jacinto’s main takeaway from this training was the importance of patience, and the importance of taking the time to understand each kid and their own personal situation. “I have so many players that have not had easy lives, and you can see it in the sport.” With the help of the training Jacinto received at the Coach Training Institute, he is able to be a better coach and better mentor for his players.

When asked what this experience has taught Jacinto, his response was heartfelt and genuine. While discussing his work with enFAMILIA and its’ partnership with Up2Us Sports, Jacinto emphasized how much this coaching position has changed him: "I have found a new passion for working with youth that I didn't know I had. It has changed my life, honestly. I know I have impacted the kids lives, but i feel like they don't realize how much they've impacted mine throughout this entire process. I've learned so much about myself."

Thanks to Haley Word, a volunteer through our partnership with Humana, for helping us compose this inspiring story.