How volunteering changed a Greyhound’s life

By Rita Buettner  |  Brian Schneider

A Soccer Without Borders student heads a ball during practice.

Two years ago when Mary Koontz, ’15, heard about Soccer Without Borders, she knew she wanted to be involved.

“I went and I’ve been ever since,” she said. “They’re my kids. I’m 20, but I have like 60 kids. I walked in and I thought, ‘These kids are going to change my life.’”

And they have.

“They’re phenomenal people,” said Koontz, who lives in Hanover, Pa. “Every second I get to spend with them, I’m learning not just about them as individuals but also more about myself.”

As she got to know the boys better, she found herself drawn to declare a major in political science. “It really opened my eyes to international relations and the way countries work together. I’m incredibly passionate about it and it’s definitely opened up my eyes not just to a lot of refugee services and refugee problems, but immigration as a whole.”

Her interactions with the boys continue to change her perspective on the world.

“I’m constantly learning about their culture and their life experiences which so outnumber my own. They’ve all lived in multiple countries and had numerous hardships or they wouldn’t be refugees,” said Koontz, who served in an internship for SWB during the spring semester.

“They tell stories about home, but the boys don’t really talk about the reasons that they had to leave their homes. We all have a very general idea, but they’re all traumatic stories. You become a refugee because your freedom and your life are in danger.”

Koontz doesn’t push the students to talk about the past, but they share bits and pieces. She was standing with a group of the boys on a damp soccer field one day when a player said, “This is nothing like Ethiopia. I would play in the desert and there was dirt and sand and there were shards of glass everywhere. And we played with a soccer ball made of trash.”

After graduation, Koontz hopes to do service in Asia. When she tells the SWB student-athletes her plans, they say, “Don’t go where we’re from.”

“But I want to work and make things better, and I want to see the camps you guys lived in,” she tells them. “Then they say, ‘You could do that. You could change it.’”

When Koontz received a text message from a SWB staff member saying that Heman Rai, ’17, had received enough scholarship money to attend Loyola, she jumped out of her chair screaming “as if I had just gotten my acceptance to Loyola,” she said. “It was really cool because as part of my internship I had organized a trip for the boys to come to Loyola. And Heman has worked so hard to get here.”

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