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Sports for At-Risk Youth Delegation- October 2022

The visit to Boulder by the Sports for At-Risk Youth Delegation was sponsored by the Congressional Office for International Leadership (COIL), an organization that we have worked with since about 2010, when it was still known as the Open World Leadership Center. The group arrived on Friday evening, October 28, and they met their host families and had dinner at the Gondolier restaurant in Boulder. The visitors were Alifbek, an assistant coach for the Tajik National Soccer Team; Farhod, a school teacher from Khujand, who works with a high school wrestling team; Fotima, a young woman who is one of the best kick-boxers in Tajikistan; Khamza, the director of the Bokhtar American Space, one of eight in Tajikistan, whose job involves showing Tajiks what life in America is like; Parviz, Chairman of the Tajikistan Paralympic Committee; and Mukjammadmasrur, the facilitator, who is himself an athlete.

City Councilman Bob Yates had arranged for the group to go to a football game at the University of Colorado on Saturday. We went to the Tailgate Party, where the delegates could get something to eat and drink. Councilman Yates introduced the group to Chancellor Phil Di Stefano and Leslie Smith, the Chair of the Board of Regents, the governing authority of the University.

Councilman Yates then accompanied us to our club seats, high above the football field. Joe Day, one of the host parents, and I did our best to explain the rules to the visitors. Because it was a cold evening, we left after the first half. The group enjoyed the game and the experience.


As we usually do to kick off the week, we hosted a reception on Sunday evening at the Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse. Councilman Yates met us there, as did Erika Blum, the representative of Congressman Joe Neguse of the 2nd District of Colorado, the host families, and other members of the Boulder community.

The Visits

Each morning, we began our day at the Chautauqua Dining Hall, owned by the City of Boulder and, like the Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse, managed by Lenny Martinelli. Traditionally, we have gathered at the Teahouse, but they no longer open at 8:00. The delegation was accompanied, except for Wednesday, by two members of the Board of Directors of the Boulder-Dushanbe Sister Cities, Rett Ertl and Joe Stepanek.

Our program, designed by Board Member Jeff Magnuson, began on Monday morning with a visit to the East Boulder Community Center of the City of Boulder, where we were greeted by Bryan Beary, Community Building and Partnerships Manager. Bryan gave us a tour of the swimming pool, weight room, and meeting rooms, and introduced us to Lori Goldman, the Director of the Expand Program, whose mission is to enhance the lives of people with disabilities through the fun of recreation while promoting development and growth through programs.

After lunch, we went to Bixby School, a private elementary school. One feature of Bixby is a swimming pool, which they consider an asset in improving the physical and mental health of its students. After a tour of the school, we spent some time learning how the swim program is run.

From there we were off to Big City Mountaineers in Arvada, where we met Executive Director David Taus. Big City Mountaineers is an organization that works with young people with mental issues. BCM works with high schools to determine which students might benefit from their programs, and then sends them on a ten-day trip into the wilderness, where they realize that they can do things that they didn’t think they could, and, as David put it, they realize that they “belong.” BCM provides backpacks and other equipment that they will need, and guides to accompany the campers. Despite the name, they do not do any mountain climbing.

On Tuesday, we met with the Director of Athletics of the Boulder Valley School District, the Athletic Director of Monarch High School, and a Monarch teacher who is in charge of sports for the disabled and also coaches the girls’ volleyball team. They explained their program for people with disabilities.

The athletic director told the group about a basketball game in which students with disabilities participated. The school invited all of the other students to watch the game, and the students rooted for both sides. The athletes were excited that people were rooting for them, and the spectators were excited that they could make the disabled students feel good.

We went on to meet with James Brown, the ADA coordinator for the City of Boulder. What could have been a boring, bureaucratic discussion turned into a lively conversation between Parvis, who is a double amputee in a wheelchair, and Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown started by telling us that he is responsible for working with designers of new City buildings, as well as enforcing the Act’s provisions in private enterprises in Boulder. In the latter case, they do not generally inspect premises for violations, but if a citizen reports an issue, they follow it up. Parvis had several questions regarding how all of this was done. The other delegates seemed interested in the questions and answers.

One of the most interesting aspects of this visit was unplanned events. Alifbek and Fotima went with Alifbek’s host father, Dennis Berry, to see Craig Alston, the assistant coach of the University of Colorado women’s varsity soccer team. Alifbek had commented that in Tajikistan, you have to choose whether to be an athlete or a student, and wanted to know how we in the U. S. combine the two. Alifbek asked many questions, and listened carefully to what Craig had to say. He will talk to Tajik universities about developing soccer programs. [Note: two weeks after this visit, the Tajik national soccer team played the Russian national team to a 0-0 tie.]