Real Life Change on the West-Side- The Story of Decoda

Decoda Curry is a 16 year old young man who has excelled in our soccer
program. When I first met Decoda a year ago, he and his family had
recently moved from a homeless shelter to a nearby apartment. Decoda, 15
at the time, had been accused of inappropriate behavior. His younger
brother became a member of our under 10 year old team. Unfortunately,
Decoda was just over the participation age limit, so he could not play on our
older team. However, Decoda would attend practices and games and would
help load our van with the team’s equipment. I noticed he consistently
came early on practice days to help load the van. He had become a
valuable member of our team. We rewarded him by making him the official
team manager for the reminder of the fall 2015 season.
In the winter, I hired him as the team manager for our indoor soccer team.
He excelled at assisting this team also. About this time I began to mull over
the idea of getting two of our players certified as soccer referees. This
would give them the opportunity to earn money and to begin practicing
financial management skills at an early age.
IMG_0050[1]Decoda Refereeing  in Smyrna, Georgia
Decoda, along with another teenager were certified and began refereeing in
the league we play in. Working with the Youth Programming Director at
City of Refuge Inc, we encouraged the boys to open bank accounts and
made it mandatory that they obtained ID cards. This was important
because they would be paid by check rather than cash. By the end of
the season, both teenagers had ID cards and bank accounts. We are also encouraging them
to give back as well as save for the future. My hope is that Decoda would save enough to
purchase a car after his senior year in high school.
I also connected them to two other leagues outside of the community that
required them to have transportation to the games. At first, I would try
to arrange rides for them; however, this quickly became a challenge for
me. This prompted Decoda to start researching online about what it
would take to get to the other sites via public transportation. If public
transportation could not get him all the way, he figured out the amount
of time it would take him to walk the rest of the way. Not only did he go,
he also took along the other young referee with him.
Decoda’s actions “wowed” me. I no longer had to be involved in arranging
his transportation. He just stepped up and made things happen.
Because of his work ethic, I wanted to make sure he had opportunities to stay
active during this summer. I contacted the Emory University Men’s Soccer
Coach about bringing Decoda on his staff at their boys soccer summer camp.
The coach agreed because he had already witnessed Decoda’s work
ethic when 20 of our players participated at an Emory soccer clinic during
spring break 2016. Decoda did so well at the Emory camp that even
though he was an unpaid volunteer, he was paid on the last day of the
camp. The coach’s wife stated, “He was a gift to us.” . While awards were
been given out on the last day, Decoda was busy breaking down the soccer
equipment all by himself and without being asked. After the awards, he
came in rolling the cart with all the equipment. The coach’s wife was so
impressed with Decoda that she invited him back for the 2017 camp.
Upon hearing this, the Youth Programming Director at City of Refuge
stated, “Decoda has a special leadership gift.”
IMG_0226[1]Decoda at the 2016 Emory University Boy’s Soccer Camp
I asked a parent that recently started a remodeling business if he would
take Decoda on some jobs. He agreed. After the first visit, Decoda did
such a great job that the owner picks him up whenever he
has a job that requires additional help. He shared, “Coach Lu thanks for
connecting me to him. The thing I liked the most was I only had to tell him
once and he got it.” I called Decoda to find out about his experience. He
stated, “it was easy.”
IMG_0322[1]Decoda assisting in constructing a Fence
Decoda self-confidence has grown and he is an example of the change we
desire in the youth and families who participate in the soccer program.
I’m positive there are more Decoda’s on the west-side of Atlanta.
My latest challenge to him is to save a certain amount of money by his
high school graduation so that he can purchase his first car. I’ve offered to
double whatever he saves. This will allow him to travel as far he needs to
referee games while also going to college.
Decoda has expressed interest in working on cars and is also interested in
earning an engineering degree from Georgia Tech. The sky is the limit for
Firstworks is using soccer as a tool to help expose youth and their
families to life outside of their current environment and create mental
images of what their lives could become.
Lusenii Watson “Coach Lu”