Nana Asare

"It just takes that one person to have you under their wings to guide you the right way and you'll be good."

This is not a story about DC SCORES introducing soccer to a child. No, Nana Asare would still be playing the sport had he not been in the program. He likely would be very good. But would Nana, 18, be heading off to Johnson State College in Vermont this fall as the first member of his family to attend college had he not participated in DC SCORES? Did he imagine this would be his future even five years ago? Nana shakes his head and then smiles. "Im pretty much excited", he said recently. "I guess it feels good to know that Ive come a long way and accomplished something".  Hes accomplished even more than the opportunity to go to college. Nana came to the United States from Ghana when he was two years old. From a very early age, he wanted to be a professional soccer player. That dream took a tragic hitand could have been derailed permanentlyduring Nanas second-grade year when he was hit by a car while walking across the street. He broke the femur in his left leg and fractured his skull. His parents thought Nana should give up the game. Even as just a second-grader, he couldnt stomach the thought.

"It was that pride and determination that I had," Nana said. "My goal was that I wanted to be a professional soccer player."  Since the accident, Nana estimates that hes had maybe eight to 11 surgeries on my left leg. He adds, To this very day when I play soccer at times it will kick in, it will lock itself or Ill just get a cramp. When that happens, Nana deals with the discomfort. Then he returns to the soccer field, refocusing on the next pass, the next crossing ball. Nana has been a paragon of determination since the accident. But it took him a while to develop the focus and discipline that allowed him to juggle playing varsity soccer and academics at Wilson High School. Nana isnt afraid to admit it: he was hard-headed, stubborn and full of behavioral issues during his early years at Brightwood Education Campus. That is, until he joined DC SCORES in fourth grade and met Shannon Nelson, the soccer coach.

She became a mentor-mother figure while I was at school, Nana reflects. She just made sure I had the right necessary tools to learn and live the life that I want to live. To this day we still keep in contact.

Slowly, Nana became more accepting of others and stopped acting up in school. Nana spent five years as a DC SCORES participant at Brightwood and then Paul Public Charter School, playing soccerof coursebut also learning to express himself through poetry. This helped him develop his public speaking skills and become a leader one never would have thought possible.

"It most definitely helped me with my social skills, you know with the whole poetry sessions and stuff," Nana said.

Now, Nana is paving the way for others. This summer, for the second consecutive year, you can find Nana at Marie Reed Elementary School braving the heat as a Summer Youth Employment Program worker at DC SCORES Soccer & Arts Camp. He also serves, unofficially, as a role model. The kids love watching Nana bounce a ball off his feet dozens of times without it coming close to touching the ground. The high school graduate soaks up every moment with the third- and fourth-graders, fully understanding the influence he has on them.

I take a lot of pride in it and I make sure that whatever message I send out I also in some way portray to them, Nana said, so that they dont feel that what I said to them is not true or that Im not that person theyre looking up to.

Nana has taken one child, Jonathan, under his wing because he sees so many similarities to his younger self. Jonathan loves soccer. Hes also hard-headed and volatile at any moment. Nana may be headed 600 miles north next month, but his focus this July is on helping Jonathan overcome the same issues he dealt with.

Hes just been that one kid that I can say Ive seen myself in when I look at him, Nana said. Ive been a knucklehead, Ive been hard-headed, Ive been stubborn at his age. It just takes that one person to have you under their wings to guide you the right way and youll be good. Nana can understand why to his mentee soccer might mean everything right now. He was there. But with age, Nana has gained perspective. He still harbors hope of playing soccer professionally, but he realizes that going to college gives him a backup option. Nana plans to major in either kinesiology or computer science at Johnson State. His careerif not playing soccerisnt yet mapped out, but hes confident, Ill figure something out eventually.

America's Afterschool Storybook tells the stories of people and communities transformed by afterschool programs.

The Afterschool Alliance launched the Storybook to help commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, the only federal initiative dedicated to supporting community afterschool programs.

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Gretchen Wright