Scoring Goals and Changing Lives
For Jorge Marquez (’09), soccer isn’t simply a game. It’s a passion, a lifestyle, and a tool that can change lives. In 2011, the Mexican native and Bethel alumnus moved back to Mexico, to Aguascalientes in order to serve as a full time volunteer in the Dulce Refugio (Sweet Refuge) orphanage. He and his wife, Caron (Neuenschwander) Marquez (’09), a former Bethel International Studies major, immediately noted the lack of discipline among the teenage boys there. Fistfights were common, physical violence was rampant, and many of the boys were failing classes at school. This prompted Jorge to start a soccer program to motivate the boys and teach them important skills.
“The whole soccer team was based around discipline, so they even signed a contract where they had to agree to not fight or they’d be kicked off the team, not use any profanity, to be respectful to people in charge, to do their chores in a timely manner,” Caron explained. “Just things that most parents would expect them to do and so when they didn’t do it they were off the team. That was really motivating to them to get better, to stop doing things that would keep them off the team, and we saw a lot of change just through the discipline portion.”
Jorge, who graduated from Bethel with a degree in Finance and Economics, began working with the boys, who practiced every day after school in their jeans and nice school shoes learning coordination drills and basic techniques. A new role model, he used tough love to teach the boys personal responsibility, working together on and off the team, and adhering to the rules. They would not start practice until the entire team was present, they learned to help each other with chores, and any boys taken off the team had to appeal to his fellow players to be allowed back on.
“They have little fights and I put them out of the team for two, three weeks and they were like, ‘Jorge, I really want to practice,’” he said. “And I say, ‘You know what, if you can’t behave like a normal person and you keep fighting, you are not gonna be on the team.’ They want to play soccer, so that started changing their behavior.”
The change was evident. Violence stopped, the boys began to do better in classes, and attitudes were altered.
“One of the soccer players, he would just never smile, just had an angry look about him all the time,” Caron said. “By the time we left, he was so good at soccer and loved it, like smiled all the time. Just a complete demeanor change.”
The couple also noticed changes in themselves.
“I wasn’t a kid anymore, or a college kid,” Jorge said. “I had my team, my 16 kids in the team, that I needed to love and also to be an example for them.”
When they arrived in Aguascalientes to help with construction, the Marquezs never intended to start a soccer team. It’s easy to see now that they were being prepared for the next stage of their life. The couple is embarking on a new journey—an opportunity to serve in Southeast Asia with a different soccer program. Caron hopes to meet many people, have good first impressions and be healthy.
They urge others to follow their example and find a place to volunteer.
“For us, being in the orphanage, it was just life changing,” Jorge said. “Not just for the kids, but for us… Everyone can have an impact in somebody’s life.”