That’s probably an interesting opening line for an ask from an organization that is focused on using sports to inspire at-risk youth. But just ask Coach Ruby. As a Corporal in the Marine Corps, Ruby served our nation through three separate deployments to Iraq. When she returned, she searched for a way to translate her service and love-of-country abroad to service and love-of-country here at home.
Coach Rafael has had a sense of service for as long as he can remember. Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, Rafael Padilla was most interested by artistic and creative pursuits. He was an avid writer and performed in a variety of theatre performances. Though he grew up in what he referred to as a “tough neighborhood,” he had positive creative outlets and strong adult role models that didn’t allow him to stray from his goals.
One of his goals, for as long as he could remember, was to join the United States military. Not only did he want to serve, he was adamant about serving on the front lines as an Army Ranger, the elite unit of the Army.
When he was 17, before he had even graduated high school, Rafael signed up for the Delayed Enlistment Program with the Army, setting him on the path to fulfill his internal call to service as soon as he graduated from high school. After clearing an initial medical hurdle that nearly derailed his plans, Rafael was sent to Fort Benning in Georgia to begin months of grueling training to become a U.S. Army Ranger.
After undergoing the physically challenging and mentally exhaustive training, Rafael was among about 30 individuals out of a class of 170 to successfully complete the program. He was deployed overseas four times during his time in the Army, once to Iraq and three times to Afghanistan. Rafael recounted his deployments, “it was pretty intense. We would go out every other night and they were very high impact missions, going out in the middle of the night to capture Taliban or Al Qaeda commanders.”
After four and a half years, Rafael left the Army knowing that he had plans outside of the battlefield. Though he left the Army, Rafael felt like he never fully transitioned from the mindset that he had while enlisted. This is because before enlisting and throughout his years in the military, Rafael has had an undeniable dedication to service. While the army gave him a mission, now that he was once again a civilian he needed to find a new mission. “I realized getting out of the military, I had cultivated this mentality where I don’t want to do anything unless it has some sort of goals or purpose,” he said.
In search of this purpose, he briefly returned to Arizona, attending a local community college before moving to Los Angeles to further pursue his education and pinpoint his next professional challenge. He attended Santa Monica College before earning his degree, in creative writing, from Cal State Northridge. Shortly before graduating he learned about the Up2Us Sports Operation Coach program and recognized how strong a fit it was. “I immediately clicked with what the mission is for Operation Coach,” he said. “I realized that if I have a job or if I am going to be doing anything, I really want to do something where I am doing some sort of good and I am impacting something that makes me feel better and is helping out society.”
He found what he was looking for in Operation Coach and in August 2016, began coaching at Brotherhood Crusade, a Los Angeles based non-profit organization that attempts to improve the quality of life of individuals through a range of programs that include focuses on education, mentorship, and sports.
As a soccer coach, Rafael has tapped into his vast leadership knowledge and experience. While he was still in the army, Rafael and his unit were put through seven months of training between deployments. In addition to the physical and mental rigor of training, Rafael underwent intense leadership training that helped him take abstract ideas about leadership and turn them into the practical skills and confidence to lead. He has now supplemented this unique and invaluable leadership experience with the Up2Us Sports Coach Training. This training provides 35 hours of intensive training in positive youth development and trauma-sensitive tactics that coaches can use to develop trust-based relationships with their youth. In describing the training, Rafael spoke about the relationships he made and how the strategies he learned have helped him as a coach, “it equipped me with a wider set of tools to deal with kids if they are upset or angry.”
With so many tools at his disposal, Rafael works passionately everyday to improve the lives of the kids he works with and be the positive role model that was so important to his growth. “I expect myself to give the kids the hand that they need to succeed, as opposed to putting unnecessary pressure on people I go in there and try to be one among them, somebody they can lean on who will push them forward,” he said.
Rafael will continue to serve as a coach, mentor, and role model with Up2Us Sports through August 2017. All the while gaining experience working with kids as he prepares for his next challenge - becoming a teacher.
Tyree Love jumped from group home to group home growing up in the foster care system in Los Angeles, California after being taken from his mother at just two years old. Through the years, he spent time in seven group homes and two foster homes before being emancipated by the courts once he turned 18.
My name is Sean Johnson and I am a veteran of the United States Air Force. I served in the Desert Storm conflict, returned home and was shot in the back in my neighborhood. I was left a paraplegic with little hope from the medical establishment that I would ever walk again. There was a time I thought my life was over but it was just the beginning. Through prayer, a consistent support system and an undeniable desire to walk, I did just that. I actually ran! For several years I was able to walk with the aid of a fixed leg brace. Complications from an ulcer years later resulted in the amputation of my right leg below the knee. I was introduced to wheelchair sports and began playing basketball and tennis. In addition to a host of gold medals from the annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games, I was one of twelve selected in 2014 to represent the East in the NWBA All Star Game in New Orleans.
I’ve always loved sports and being re-acquainted with them after losing my leg helped me to cope with my situation better. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I felt the need to help someone else. I have a heart for the disabled, veterans and our youth. Working with Up2Us Sports has allowed me to address and service all three of these groups. The training Up2Us Sports provided for me is something I will never forget! I learned how to reach those who are in need, and through the power of sports, guide them to a happier, healthier and more satisfying life.
Sean Johnson began his one-year service term at Philly PAL through Up2Us Sports' Operation Coach Program in August 2016. His position is generously funded by Toyota.
Up2Us Sports has launched a fundraising campaign on CrowdRise called $100k in 100 Days to support our Operation Coach program. Between September 23, 2016 - December 31, 2016 we want to raise $100,000 to help returning veterans reconnect with their communities through sports.
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.