March 15--New immigrants worry about being lonely and making ends meet, but Collins Emerhi of Newton hopes to change that -- one soccer game at a time.
“It can be a scary place,” Emerhi said of America. “Everything seems like an extravaganza. You go to the mall, it’s an extrava-ganza. Everything is super size.”
Emerhi, 45, arrived in Boston from Nigeria in 1990 after the government there usurped the farmlands and his family’s way of life was wiped out. “I didn’t know anybody,” he said. “It was hard to make friends.”
But now, after owning several pizza shops, a home health-care service and starting a family, Emerhi said with a laugh, “I’m a Yankee doodle.”
As a soccer coach at Boston Ski and Sports Club, he’s a helping hand to his many immigrant teammates trying to get ahead.
“I feel like an ambassador,” Emerhi said. “Immigrants arrive in Boston and they contact me.”
For many immigrants, soccer is the most popular sport of their homelands and joining a team here gives them a place to grow socially, athletically -- and sometimes improve financially and phonetically.
“It’s opened new doors. I met people, and that’s how I got a job,” said Andre Almeida, a 31-year-old commercial painter from Everett who joined Emerhi’s team in 2003 after arriving from Brazil two years earlier. “It helped me with my English, too.”
Almeida is one of dozens of immigrant teammates Emerhi befriends each year, taking them on tours around Boston, organizing meet-ups for dinner or drinks, or just offering a helping hand.
“One time he gave me (money) to help with gas,” Almeida said. “I was very, very glad.”
Emerhi recalls taking a homesick Irish teammate to The Burren in Somerville -- a popular watering hole with Irish beers and live Celtic music at night.
“I said, ‘This is the place to be if you want to feel back at home,’” Emerhi said. “He was blown away.”
“He helps everybody and tries to bring everybody together,” Brazilian teammate Philipe Bazilio, 22, of Jamaica Plain said of Emerhi. “Even if you’re having a bad day and don’t want to play, he encourages you.”
“We’re one of the most inter-national teams in the league,” said U.S.-born teammate Caroline Raclin, 26, of Brookline. “People come to be part of something they’re comfortable with. They can be themselves without having to talk too much. It’s the language of soccer.”
(c)2012 the Boston Herald
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