Hometown Hero: Charm Emiko and Project S.T.O.R.Y.

By JAMIE L. COSTA

Monitor staff

Published: 05-01-2023 5:50 PM

Without the help of a community organization dedicated to supporting and assisting refugees and New Americans in Concord, soccer prodigy Boris Hirwa wouldn’t be as successful or as talented as he is today.

Project S.T.O.R.Y, which stands for Supporting Talents of Rising Youth, operates as a non-profit without the status and funding of one. It was first founded by Charm Emiko, formerly Camacho, toward the end of 2019 when she realized how difficult it was for children like Hirwa to overcome barriers they face as refugees.

“It has helped me with everything I have done so far with soccer and school and supplies me with things I need for the future like all of the classes Charm [Emiko] does and it’s a step to help us in the future with whatever we need,” Hirwa said. “Without Charm and her whole family, I wouldn’t be where I am today – they’ve taught me certain lessons that I needed to learn, through the good and the bad.”

Emiko and her son, Taro Camacho, now 10, first met Hirwa and his family when the boys were in first grade, a few months after he moved to Concord from the Republic of Rwanda.

“They became instant friends and with that came wanting to have him over for play dates but I had to find a way to communicate with his family in order to let my son have his best friend come over,” Emiko said. “I got connected with his older brothers who spoke enough English where I was able to make plans to pick up Boris which progressed into this great relationship with their family.”

As Emiko and Taro began spending more time with Boris and his family, Emiko connected with other parts of the family and their friends in the neighborhood while learning about their different cultures. The relationship quickly evolved into an interconnected community of New American and refugee families that Emiko noticed were faced with barriers of language, transportation, education, finances and support.

“I was going to sign them up for soccer and Boris wasn’t signing up because he didn’t know how, his mom didn’t know how, his mom didn’t speak English, he didn’t have the $50, he didn’t have equipment and he didn’t have a ride,” Emiko said. “I thought ‘wow, there are so many barriers for you,’ and that’s not something people think about – there are so many barriers to do something as simple as participate in sports.”

Emiko made it her responsibility to take care of those barriers for him and soon, as word spread of her generosity, other youth in the New American community began looking to her for support and resources. Her mission to support and empower refugee youth has now grown into a group of more than 90 new American kids that utilize services, classes, resources, transportation and financial support that Emiko has dedicated her life to providing.

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“I started Project S.T.O.R.Y. and thought we could match the resources we received because Concord has so many and there are people in the community that wanted to give back to the kids and the New Americans,” Emiko said of the evolution. “All of them are so bright and so smart and so talented and they slip through the cracks because they don’t have the resources.”

But without the kids, Project S.T.O.R.Y. would be nothing, Emiko continued. The organization is empowered by the children who participate in the group, use the resources and provide Emiko with ideas, talking points, topics for classes, activities and events.

“Kids are looking at Project S.T.O.R.Y. like a big family and looking at me and the organization like a support system and a safe space,” Emiko said. “They run it, they help me, they tell me what they need and they dictate how it’ll go – the kids are the heroes here.”

The children talk to Emiko about serious issues they’re facing in school, like racism and discrimination, while others need help with tutoring and school supplies, rides to sports practice and other hobbies and advice about their first relationships. Some only need the support of a responsible adult while many like to learn about other cultures and make friends.

“I really like it because not only are we helping people from other countries, Charm is doing such an amazing job with everybody and she’s been really kind and I love it because I get to meet people from other countries and make friends,” said Aayusha Darji, 9. “I wouldn’t be here where I am right now without Project S.T.O.R.Y.”

Because the organization operates as a non-profit, it’s overseen by Overcomers Refugee Services which acts as the fiscal agent. but Emiko hopes to make the organization entirely sustainable on it’s own with the help of the youth who she hopes will return when they age out of the program.

Hirwa, who has goals to become a professional soccer player one day, want to create similar organizations in bigger communities as a larger extension of Project S.T.O.R.Y., he said, to help those who can’t help themselves, like Emiko did for him.

“I don’t know which direction I want to go to achieve sustainability but I want these kids to love Project S.T.O.R.Y. so much that they want to come and give back; that’s my idea,” Emiko said. “They are the ones that are going to perpetuate this and keep perpetuating the idea and when I’m gone, they’re going to take over. Eventually this is just going to run itself without me and I’ll do anything to help them.”

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