Students in the District of Columbia are required to complete 100 hours of community service before graduating high school. Most high school seniors meticulously keep track of their hours until they reach their goal, but for Robert Morina, a senior at Washington, D.C.’s Eastern High School, giving back to his community is second nature.
Morina’s connection to the community is deeper than most of his peers. When he was in eighth grade, he suddenly found himself living in a homeless shelter with his single father and little brother. Like most adolescents, Morina was still trying to find his identity, and living at D.C. General solidified his desire to create a better life for himself.
“I began to understand what I was going through. It was a developing process of learning life at that age,” said Morina. “I looked back through my past, and saw how much we’ve been through. I started connecting with God, and it basically got us through the shelter.”
Describing himself at that time as anti-social, Morina joined the football team in ninth grade to bond with his peers. Pastor and former NFL lineman Rickey Bolden mentored the Eastern football team, and encouraged Morina to join the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. When Morina wasn’t on the gridiron, he devoted his time to working in the Youth Department of the Pilgrim African Methodist Episcopal Church.
He’s worked for the Sons of Allen Men’s Ministry Food Pantry, where he packed up food to be distributed to the needy. He’s also did work for Takin’ it to the Streets—an organization that partners with local churches and agencies to provide resources for the homeless—and the Kiwanis Club of Shepherd Park.
“It helped me become more social, not only with the people in my school, but also the people in my community,” Morina said of his volunteer work. “It helped me look toward trying to help people rather than acquire hours.”
Through football and community service, Morina was able to break down the social barriers that initially separated him from his peers. By twelfth grade, he became captain of the football team.
This year, Morina’s hard work and perseverance was noticed by the District of Columbia State Athletic Association (DCSAA). He was one of 16 recipients of the 2015-16 Student-Athlete Academic Scholarship. Each recipient was awarded a $1,000 scholarship to college.
“To compete today, it takes tenacity; it takes commitment; it takes being able to rebound back from disappointments. I think those are all elements you can associate with real life,” said DCSAA Executive Director Clark Ray. “To watch them compete against each other with the same spirit, and all coming from different backgrounds, it’s pretty remarkable.”
Morina—who holds a 3.66 GPA—was recently accepted to Morgan State University’s Center for Academic Success and Achievement (CASA) Academy, an alternative admissions program designed to ease the transition from high school to college. If he successfully completes that, he’ll be a Morgan State freshman in the fall, majoring in computer science.
Despite his young age, Morina seems to know that life is full of hurdles. However, through dedication and perseverance, he is determined to continue to defy the odds.