When Alicia, a Sports4Kids coach, came to Urban Promise Academy back in 2006, Jaziela was a quiet, reserved, and insecure sixth grader. She decided to become a junior coach because other kids were doing it – she “just wanted to be part of the crew.” Little did she know that her relationship with Alicia, and the friends she would make as a result, would grow her confidence and serve as a life-long support network that would carry her beyond Oakland and, eventually, back.
Jaziela shares one early memory of how Alicia—or “Coach,” as she calls her—boosted her confidence during Urban Promise Academy’s recess. “I remember I used to never play soccer and then one time…coach was like, ‘We're going to play soccer,’ and I was just like, ‘I'm not doing it.’” But Coach was persistent in coaxing Jaziela out of her comfort zone. “Then coach is like, ‘Okay. Just run around and pretend you're kicking the ball.’” That experience on the playground grew into a life-long love; Jaziela continued to play soccer all through high school, on two separate sports teams.
The confidence translated to other sports and games too. Jaziela says, “Once I joined S4K, it was like I felt more comfortable with myself playing. I felt like I was, I can do anything the guys can do. I would definitely say it was like a booster type of thing. Confidence definitely.”
Jaziela went on to be a junior coach for all three years of middle school. She encourages the next generation of junior coaches to be confident too. “Definitely don't be afraid. Go for anything. Have fun. Fun is just like the main thing for Coach. I would always be like, ‘Coach what are we going to do?’ She was like, ‘We're going to have fun. Whatever we did, we just had fun doing it.’” The fun wasn’t just for the middle schoolers, though. Jaziela laughs, recalling, “We’d bring out the kid in coach.”
To Jaziela, Sports4Kids was more than a way to have fun, though. It was a way to help her stay out of trouble and get through a tumultuous middle school experience. Jaziela describes herself as a “little rebel in middle school.” But, she adds, “I felt like going out and playing helped me a lot.” Play was a stress reliever, and Sports4Kids was a support network. When Jaziela was sent to the office for acting up, Coach would always check up on what had happened. “We would always talk about it till I felt okay,” Jaziela said.
Coach’s involvement in her life didn’t end with the school day either. Coach not only got to know Jaziela’s family, she welcomed Jaziela as part of her own. “I feel like it helped me a lot, especially like to have friends,” Jaziela said. “[Coach] would always encourage us so much to [do] everything, especially me as a girl. It would be like me and three other girls that would be part of the family that we called S4K family.”
Coach is still involved in Jaziela’s life and the lives of the other girls in the S4K family. When everyone is in town, they all meet up for what they call “mini-field trips” to catch up, to reminisce about what it was like when they were kids, and to support each other as they work on living out their plans for the future.
Having a plan was one thing Coach had always stressed. As Jaziela explains, “She’s always tell us to have a plan…I liked telling her my plan because either way she backs me up 100%.” In eighth grade, Jaziela already had her sights on a career in fashion design, and with the encouragement of Coach, Jaziela made her plan a reality. She now lives with her mother’s family and has been attending a fashion program for two years in Guadalajara, Mexico.
After she finishes, Jaziela plans to come back to the community she grew up in. She wants to become an independent fashion designer and follow in her father’s footsteps by fixing up his shop. Before that happens, of course, the S4K family plans to get together for a mini-field trip sometime soon.