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The Prize



By Gregory Kepferle

CEO, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County and President, Charities Housing Development Corporation

On a recent blustery Saturday morning two different groups of students gathered for challenging and entertaining activities. One group of high school and older youth gathered for a friendly soccer match. Another group of elementary school youth gathered for a friendly technology competition. Both of these are normal activities here in Silicon Valley. Most people might pass them by and not notice anything unusual. But both of these activities were in fact extraordinary, not for the activities themselves, but for who participated and how and why.

The soccer match was the second annual One World Cup which brought together refugee foster youth from around the world mixed with teams from local Catholic high schools at Archbishop Mitty High School. The refugee foster youth sponsored by Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County through our Refugee Foster Care program included high school students and students attending community college. The Catholic high schools’ players included students from Archbishop Mitty, Bellarmine, Notre Dame, Presentation, and Saint Francis high schools.

Here were youth from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, who had been orphaned by war or who were abandoned or fled war-torn countries without their parents, playing alongside youth educated in the finest Catholic schools of the area. As a symbol that we are all one, every player wore a jersey with the same number – 18 (for 2018).
A simple game of soccer breaks down barriers and builds bridges among young people from diverse backgrounds and helps all of us remember the Gospel call to welcome the stranger.

Meanwhile just a few miles away over 3,000 youth gathered for the Tech Challenge to inspire young minds to think and design creatively and practically in a way that makes STEM learning fun. Not all the students had engineers for parents or had all the fancy equipment of the latest state of the art STEM labs. Some of the students came from immigrant families struggling to make ends meet. Thirty-nine students came from Catholic Charities CORAL after school STEM programs at Washington, Kennedy, Dahl, Dan Lairon, and Franklin elementary schools in San José. Our students from Franklin Elementary School won Best Team Safety Award. Our team from Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School won Outstanding Engineering Design Process. Some of these students will be tomorrow’s engineers.

By improving students’ academic skills outside the classroom, Catholic Charities helps break the cycle of generational poverty.

While the youth competed vigorously in the One World Cup and in the Tech Challenge, the prize wasn’t necessarily the score of the game or the award for technical accomplishment.

Rather the prize was being able to play in a safe place, being able to create, being recognized as possessing human dignity with God-given potential, and being accepted as part of one human family. The chant at the soccer game wasn’t “We Won,” but rather “We Are – One World.”

o learn how you can donate or volunteer to help refugee orphans or invest in children seeking to extend learning after school go to