Good Company

Posted By: Zachary Yonda
Posted On: September 4th, 2018
Attending: Sligo Institute of Technology

Institute of Technology Sligo


I just turned 23. It is 1:30 AM in my new home of Sligo, Ireland. It was hard for me to get excited about my birthday this year, I think for two reasons.

The first is because I am away from home, where technically it’s not even my birthday yet. If you know me you know that everything I love I found in the suburbs of Philadelphia. My family is with me everywhere I go. Their constant love and support provides me with a comfort and confidence to take risks, try new things, and venture out of my comfort zone. Right next to them in my heart are my closest friends. While my family provided me with the right tools for success, my friends made me into the person I am today. They are the highlight of my life and I cherish how each of them makes me a better person in their own, unique way.

If there’s one piece of advice I could give a young person, it would be to carefully choose your inner circle of friends. Those are people you will discover life with, teach you how to make good decisions, and provide you with unforgettable memories. My inner circle? It is second to none.

Despite all of that, to my surprise I really haven’t felt homesick (yet). Which brings me to the second reason my birthday has taken a backseat this year.

The past 10 days all my energy was focused on moving to a new country. When I got to know the 33 other Victory Scholars through the Sport Change Life Launch, our flight to Dublin, and orientation week in Belfast, the feelings of anticipation shot through the roof. Over our first week each day together was better than the last. Not only did I get along with the other Scholars but I felt loved. We were a family, which is really hard to believe considering all of us had just met for the first time. The whole week I was in awe of the talent around me. Yes they can all ball, but I’m talking bigger than that. Their abilities to leave comfort zones, be social and engaging, and provide support to whoever was around them blew me away. These are student athletes who are passionate about spreading positive change and impacting young lives by telling their own story. I feel very lucky to be in such good company.

The reason we are all here is Sport Changes Life. As a foundation, their mission is to reach out the young people of Northern Ireland who are struggling and extend a beacon of hope, support, and love through sport. This week I experienced their work first hand through eHoops, visits to local youth centers, and joining Limavady High School for their first day of class. I mentioned my inner circle earlier. Most of the people in it I met through basketball. Many of the kids we worked with this past week never had the chance to make an inner circle, or got caught up in wrong one because of poverty, neglect, and negative influences they couldn’t control. By inviting them into ours at Sport Changes Life we can make real change. It is already happening, and as the foundation grows our influence will only reach further.

Most of the work I’ll be doing will be out of Sligo. I’ve only been here two days but already feel the same love and support I had in Belfast from my new club, the Sligo All-Stars, and the IT that I’ll be studying at. All the pieces are in place for a fantastic year. I’m here to give back. Sport has changed my life and now I have an opportunity to show others how it can change theirs.

To all the people reading this back home, I miss you very much. I’m sure the homesickness will hit me soon and hit me hard. For now though, know that I’m being taken care of by the people around me. I am in good company. Something tells me by the I leave Ireland my inner circle will be a bit bigger.

23rd birthday is off to a good start.

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