Investigative Reporting

Raising a Good Kid

Paying for Tennis

“Often times, children have dreams. And because they are not in a very nurturing environment, they tend to lose out on opportunities or just lose their way, not achieving their dreams,” says Lola Ricketts in her composed teacher’s voice. For a second, her voice breaks, she smiles shyly and adds “Really, I just want to be there for Mukasa.” As a student at Christ for the Nations Institute (CFNI) whose work scholarship only covers her studies and living expenses, Lola does not work outside the school. She explains that with only a $100 monthly stipend, there is not a lot she can do for her 14-year-old son Mukasa. He is the youngest of three children; his older sisters and father are home in Jamaica. “I know he has this passion for tennis. And I am like: OK. Whatever it takes, I will help him reach there.”

Lola is a 50-year-old educator who taught English Language and Literature in Kingston College boys’ high school, Jamaica. She came to the States pursuing a call of God and seeking a better life for her family. Mukasa joined her a year later. Right now, the better life is more of a dream. Lola and Mukasa stay in a small 2-bedroom apartment on the school’s campus located in the middle of Oak Cliff, the inner city of DFW metropolis. They don’t even own a car. But the Ricketts are relentless at pursuing Mukasa’s dream. Lola saves any finances she can to pay for the tennis program. Mukasa often walks to practice for several miles in any weather. When practice is too far to walk, they arrange for him to get rides from coaches or friends willing to help.

When at practice, Mukasa forgets about the world around him: his eyes, his hands, his entire body is focused on the ball.  He is here for the game.

Mukasa Preparing for the Game

Mukasa Preparing for the Game

Mukasa Getting Ready to Hit the Ball

Mukasa Getting Ready to Hit the Ball

Mukasa Playing Tennis  with His Entire Body

Mukasa Playing Tennis with His Entire Body

Mukasa and the Teammates Briefing with Coach Eric

Mukasa and the Teammates Briefing with Coach Eric

Mukasa does not notice that the wind is so chilling it penetrates to the bones. “We practice out here unless the temperature drops below 40,” explains Kara Kuhn picking up the pen blown away by the wind to sign in the players. Kuhn is a volunteer that has been with Slam Jammers, a low-cost junior development program of Dallas Tennis Association, for five years. She knows every kid signing in by name, and when she greets them, she asks about their families. Kuhn explains that Mukasa is a fabulous player, but he often does not have a way to get to the tournaments. That is when some of the coaches step in.

Coach Frank Charles, for example, takes Mukasa to practices on Mondays and Tuesdays. He has also taken him to some of the tournaments paying the cost associated with his transportation and stay there. “Mukasa, I think, is a very talented young gentleman … I took him to his first tournament,” coach Frank says. He adds that he did not tell Mukasa that the person he was playing against was on a higher level than himself. “He beat the person in the first round,” coach Frank says, “People were shocked. They kept asking me ‘How long has your son been playing?’” He chuckles saying that he had to explain to others that Mukasa was his student and that day was his first tournament. Coach Frank thinks that besides learning how to play tennis, Mukasa needs to learn about American culture. Since the boy’s father is in Jamaica, he sees himself as Mukasa’s mentor: “On my transportation routes, I told him that I want him to have three to five questions about life… And we discuss things about his life, his family [and] his friends.”

After two hours of practice, Mukasa’s ride is ready to leave. But he wants “to hit the ball,” continue playing, with a friend. Then, coach Eric Matthews says that he will take Mukasa back as he often does.

Watch Head Coach Craig Cole Talk about Slam Jammers and Mukasa

Lola admits that if it weren’t for the Slam Jammers, Mukasa would be missing not only on tennis, but on having male role models he so desperately needs being far from his father. In this and other ways, she thinks extracurricular activities complement academics: “Many programs, especially sports and music, are a form of self-expression whereby kids can be who they want to be. And it shapes [sic] who they can become.”

Playing Soccer Together

As a children’s pastor, Alvaro Aparicio equally believes in the importance of enriching a child’s life through sports. He has been taking his 7-year-old son Esteban to soccer practices since the age of 3 through a low-cost Program and Activities provided by a local Kiest Park and Recreation Center. “I know that my son is a little shy,” Alvaro explains about Esteban, “I saw soccer as an opportunity for him to get involved with more children.” He also thinks that extracurricular activities, such as sports, teach kids important life lessons that cannot be learned in school. For example, “You can teach them the attitude you need when you win, but also when you lose…You need to teach them that things happen when you work hard.Moreover, soccer gives Esteban a much needed exercise since they live on the second floor of the alumni housing at CFNI.

Esteban Warming up at Soccer Practice

Esteban Warming up at Soccer Practice

Esteban Running at Soccer Practice

Esteban Running at Soccer Practice

Esteban Running to Catch the Ball

Esteban Running to Catch the Ball

Alvaro with Esteban Acting Shy for the Camera

Alvaro with Esteban Acting Shy for the Camera

Alvaro and his wife Saret came to CFNI from Venezuela. Upon his graduation in 2008, he obtained a Master’s in Counseling from Dallas Baptist University (DBU) that allowed him to stay in the United States as a religious worker serving Preparing the Way Ministries. The Aparicios also have a daughter Anna Daniela, 3. Since the dad is the only one working due to their immigration status, paying for Esteban’s soccer practices has been everyone’s effort. Alvaro explains that while the monthly fee of $20 is affordable, when Esteban needed to pay $200 for his special uniform, they had to do everything from car washes to tamale sale to raise the money.

Driving Esteban to soccer classes is also an activity for the whole family. When Alvaro is held up at work or stuck in traffic, Saret takes her son to practice. Of course, Anna Daniela comes along. They are going to Soccer Plaza, an indoor sports center where the classes take place during winter months since it’s too cold to practice at Kiest Park. Once inside, Anna Daniela immediately lets go of her mom’s hand and pushes through the crowded waiting area to play with the other little sisters who have become dear friends overtime. Alvaro comes in a little while. He never misses practice. “I like the time, outside the house… to connect with my child,” he says. Now, the entire family watches Esteban play and cheer him on whether he hits the ball or falls down while trying to do so. Alvaro says, “Seeing my child, seeing Esteban, involved in something that he likes is awesome!”

Watch Alvaro Cheering Esteban on at Soccer Practice

Providing Exposure to Different Cultures

The financial struggles, underprivileged living conditions and other limitations the Ricketts and the Aparicios are experiencing could be considered typical of immigrant families that recently relocated to the U.S. The McDermotts, on the other hand, live in Oak Cliff’s inner-city neighborhood sacrificially.

Melissa and Paul McDermott are American citizens by birth. They are also well-educated. She holds an MBA and a Ph.D in Organizational Leadership from Regent University while her husband has a J.D. from the same school. “We came [here] four years ago to go to Bible school. My husband had a business in Virginia since 2005, but we felt a call to ministry,” Melissa says. She recalls telling her husband when they visited the campus, “That’s OK. You can go to Bible school, but I’m not living in Oak Cliff.” Melissa explains being familiar with the neighborhood because she took classes at CFNI in the ‘90s while doing her Bachelor’s at DBU. She knew that poverty and crime were rampant in this part of Dallas. Now, the McDermotts are raising a family: Caitlin, 5, Dylan, 3, and Ethan, 11 months. Having small children, Melissa fears for their safety. “It’s such a bad area,” she says chuckling nervously.

Melissa’s safety concerns are not unfounded. Neal Cline, the head of CFNI security, confirms through an email correspondence that the police and other data he has been receiving show that “70-80 [percent] of all crime reports in [this] reporting area comes from the Carousel Courts Apartments, located right behind Courts of Praise [CFNI alumni housing].” Melissa knows that because Paul has been serving as an alumni liaison during his studies and has attended the meetings with police department representatives. Yet, she says, “God just asked us to live a surrendered life… And God really gave us the heart for this neighborhood too.” Melissa admits frankly, “Sometimes, hearing gun shots at night or finding the bullet shells at the playground… It’s not what I imagined in raising small kids…” she pauses, “But it’s what God planned.”  Despite the difficulties, McDermotts know that living in Oak Cliff for this season in their life is part of their ministry preparation.

Entrance into Courts of Praise, CFNI alumni housing

Entrance into Courts of Praise, CFNI alumni housing

Neighborhood Apartments Across the Street from Courts of Praise

Neighborhood Apartments Across the Street from Courts of Praise

Neighborhood Apartments Across the Street from Courts of Praise 2

Neighborhood Apartments Across the Street from Courts of Praise 2

Dream Center (Street View)

Dream Center (Street View)

 

 

 

 

 

Outside of “limited resources and limited space,” there is something Melissa is grateful for.

Caitlin Doing More Moves

Caitlin Doing Her Moves

Caitlin and Her Friends Getting Ready to Jump in a Circle

Caitlin and Her Friends Getting Ready to Jump in a Circle

CFNI provides her kids with unique multicultural environment. Melissa grew up in Queens, New York, where she heard 90 different languages spoken every single day. “So I’ve always loved different cultures,” she says, “For a while I was grieving that my kids wouldn’t have that.” Suddenly, her voice changes and her face starts to glow, “And then one day, I realized: we are here on the campus of Christ for the Nations where there [are], at least, 60 different countries of people all around! So I’m just thankful that my kids don’t see people black or white, or they don’t really care about color…” With sheer happiness, she adds “With kids […] accepting everyone for who they are, whether they are rich or poor… It turned my eyes to be grateful that they can be

Caitlin Doing the  Dance Moves

Caitlin Doing More Dance Moves

Caitlin and Her Friends Listening to their Teacher Rebeca

Caitlin and Her Friends Listening to their Teacher Rebeca

exposed to that.”

So when the McDermotts could no longer afford Caitlin’s dance classes at a DeSoto studio for $50 a month, a Christmas gift from the grandparents, Melissa was not too saddened. The Dream Center Outreach, a ministry of CFN Church, offers free dance classes where Caitlin explores her musical interest in a multicultural environment. “It’s nice to see, you know, there are kids from Korea, and [sic] Africa and all different places that are coming together… And they are dancing and worshiping God.” Melissa says, “It’s a blessing.”

Watch Caitlin and her international friends practice for the Easter Performance at CFN Church with their teacher Rebeca Hefzi-Ba Cano from Mexico

Being There

The Ricketts, the Aparicios and the McDermotts are all raising their children in what could be considered an undesirable environment. But they found a secret to doing it well.

Their examples show that parents don’t have to be multimillionaires, live in the best and safest neighborhoods or have access to top of the line schools and activity centers. Parents just have to be there. They have to listen to their children. Learn their dreams. Make a way for them to pursue those dreams. Teach them a few lessons along the way. Expose them to the world around them, to different people, different cultures. Most of all, believe in them. As Lola amply puts it, “Parents should be there for their kids, you know. If you don’t believe in your kids, who else would believe in them?!”

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