Though refugee youth living in America come from different countries and speak different tongues, there is a language they can all have in common: soccer. As YALLA education director Lars Almquist explained, soccer is “a universal language among a diasporic community.” YALLA founder, Mark Kabban experienced this phenomenon himself when one day he was juggling a soccer ball outside and a group of refugee kids joined him in a pickup game. Having lived in Lebanon for most of his youth, Kabban knows how hard it is to move into a new society. Inspired by his impromptu soccer match, he founded YALLA, a Peace Builders Soccer League and tutoring program for refugee kids. Youth in his program come from Iraq, Africa, and Latin America, and often immigrated to the United States to escape civil war, genocide, and forced labor. Many have never been to school a day in their lives, but in their new homes, they have a chance to acquire knowledge, make new friends, and prepare for bright futures in college or trade careers.
By word of mouth and outreach efforts, young refugees come to the YALLA office, hoping to join the soccer team they heard about in school. But the soccer league is really just a hook to get kids involved in YALLA’s true mission—to help youth acclimate into and succeed in their new lives in America, both socially and academically. In exchange for the chance to play, scholar-athletes must spend the same amount of time in after-school tutoring sessions as they do in soccer practice, so that they hone their math and language skills along with their bicycle kick. Within this strong community of peers, young refugees can build a home and work toward success that was long denied to them.
While tutoring youth in YALLA, Almquist found that it only takes a small push to help them progress from hopelessness to success. Everyday they work, they build a foundation of knowledge in a new language. Eventually, something clicks and they can finish problems on their own or begin tutoring other children. Then they can focus on a larger goal, such as going to college, getting a job, or finding a scholarship to play soccer after graduation.
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California Wolf Center was founded in 1977 to educate the public about wildlife and ecology, specifically the history and behavior of the gray wolf. Located 50 miles east of San Diego, it houses 19 wolves—five Alaskan gray wolves and 14 of the approximately 358 Mexican gray wolves that exist worldwide. The wolves act as ambassadors for the wild, taking part in educational programs for the public. The center also participates in the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan, which aims to help the endangered species recover in the wild. At the facility, wolves live in off-exhibit enclosures that can help retain their natural behavior since some of them will eventually be released back into the wild.
At each of several one-day festivals held throughout the country, thousands of revelers unite in an epic clash of pulp, beer, and live music. Armed with a cache of 300,000 tomatoes, participants don protective bathing suits and goggles and hurl the fruit at one another during a two-hour battle. Throughout the afternoon, live music and costume contests offer an entertaining respite from the front lines, as bartenders dispense drafts of beer to attendees older than 21, refueling soldiers' morale before they resign to writing goodbye letters to their produce vendors back home. All tomatoes used during the event are past ripe and already fated for disposal, making the battle an efficient means of tossing them before their cursed transformation into singing Muppets.
The patter of gloves against heavy bags and the paced breathing of circling sparring partners fills The Boxing Club with energy. That's amplified by trainers, who lead classes in everything from cycling to kickboxing. There's muay thai, for example, an MMA fighting style that torches calories with flurries of flying elbows, knees, and fists, or jiu jitsu, which focuses more on grappling.
Martial arts are, in a way, just one more way of working towards physical fitness for many at the studio. Fitness goals are helped along by a full weight room, cardio area, and pilates studio. There's also a full locker room for cleaning up afterwards.
The AjA Project’s semester-long Social Justice program guides student explorations of culture and identity, and promotes discussions of racial tension with the goal of preempting bullying and physical violence. Provided with photography training and the use of cameras, 100 young participants then create visual narratives that illustrate their own stories and reflect upon the problems facing their communities. Since 2000, the AjA Project's programs have helped more than 1,200 students to express themselves through photography, and displayed their narratives to more than one million viewers online and in galleries. The organization currently needs new digital cameras with basic accessories for students participating in the Social Justice program.
Colossal cuisine portions tip the scales of both locations' menus. The fresh spring rolls ($5.50) burst at their rice-paper seams with vegetables, tofu, and shrimp and come served with a peanut sauce, perfect for dipping and liquid-diet elephants. Poultry patrons can cast a vote for the panang curry chicken ($7.50), which mixes coconut milk with sweet, spicy, and thick curry, adorned with plump bell peppers, sweet pineapple, and affable basil. In the realm of classic tastes, the pad see iew ($7.50) allows noncommittal noodlers the choice of thin rice noodles or flat noodles with a savory synthesis of chicken, broccoli, carrots, egg, and sweet black sauce. The kitchen team can spicy up your dish as sweltering as your devil-may-care tongue can handle, and in emergencies, smoldering stamp-lickers can be extinguished with a tasty Thai iced tea ($1.95).