Last fall, I coached my son Hank's under-12 soccer team in the Towson United recreation program. Although I have coached over 40 seasons of youth sports, this season was perhaps the most rewarding — for both Hank and me. Not because we won the championship — indeed, we didn't even win a single game. But, rather for the amazing opportunity that presented itself to the boys on our team, Arsenal, when Yousef joined the squad.

Yousef was a 10-year-old Syrian refugee who had spent the past three years in a Jordanian refugee camp with his parents and four siblings — and 75,000 other displaced persons awaiting approval to emigrate to the United States. For all of that time, the seven members of Yousef's family shared a tiny tent with minimal trappings of everyday life. They bore the burden of intense heat, inadequate food and harsh conditions in the hope of escaping the vicious civil war being waged in their home country.


Fortunately, in August of last year, Yousef's family obtained permission to come to the United States. Sponsored by Episcopal Relief Services, the family was placed in a rowhouse in Rodgers Forge. The grandmother of one of the boys on our Arsenal club was a volunteer for the organization and approached me to ask whether we would be willing to take Yousef on our team. Of course, we agreed, and at the following practice he joined the squad.

One would think that not speaking a word of English and having never played organized soccer before might have limited Yousef's interactions with the team. But innate human goodness took care of that. One by one, the boys developed their own form of communication with Yousef. Hank learned a few words of Arabic and used hand signals to direct Yousef in drills. Others demonstrated proper technique to use in practices and games. All the boys took it upon themselves to help Yousef fit in.

As the season went along, these acts of kindness bore fruit, as Yousef rapidly learned English, picked up on the meaning of a "high five" and became a valuable member of the team. Meanwhile, Arsenal families regularly brought clothes and other household items for Yousef's family to our games.

The value of this experience to the boys was priceless. Through many conversations and interactions during the season, each learned to think outside of themselves and to exhibit remarkable kindness to their new teammate. And Yousef and his family were introduced to the quiet generosity of typical Americans. It is clear to me that this positive experience with their neighbors has enabled them to integrate quickly into their new community — both of Yousef's parents have found jobs, and Yousef and his siblings are all doing well in their new schools.

Contrast this age-old American immigration story with the callous and ignorant comments and actions taken by the cowardly and bigoted new president and his advisors. Donald Trump may try to scare the country into paralysis with his divisive rhetoric. However, I firmly believe that the thousands and thousands of individual acts of kindness toward new immigrants in the United States, combined with massive protests of the Trump anti-immigrant policies will allow fair-minded and generous Americans to triumph, leading to more relationships like that between Yousef, Hank and their Arsenal teammates.

Peter Beilenson, Baltimore

The writer is the former health commissioner of Baltimore City and Howard County.