The Ultimate Goal
Dennis Arreaza’s service project donates badly needed soccer equipment to at-risk kids in Guatemala.
For Dennis Arreaza ’23, the road to Elmhurst began when he was just 11 years old—on a dusty, gravel-strewn makeshift soccer pitch.
Born in Chicago, Dennis moved with his family to suburban Northlake when he was 8 years old. Although he grew up in the Midwest, his parents—who immigrated to the U.S. from their native Guatemala—wanted him and his brother to know their roots.
“My dad has taken us on trips to Guatemala ever since I was little,” Dennis says. “He wanted us to grow up knowing that people there are struggling, and for us to understand that we’re fortunate for what we have.”
His father taught him that “you have to lend a hand to help those who need it.”
That’s a lesson Dennis takes to heart as he enters Elmhurst University as a first-year student this fall—and as the first-place winner of the inaugural Niebuhr Service to Society Scholarship competition.
In his video application for the four-year, full-tuition award, Dennis highlighted his ongoing project in the village of Zacapa, Guatemala, where he organized a youth soccer team.
On his first trip to Guatemala, Dennis—then a sixth-grader—saw kids playing soccer barefoot, “running on rocks and with cuts on their feet,” he says, adding that his dad grew up playing that way, too.
The image inspired him to help those kids, starting from the ground up.
“I went to garage sales and asked people for donations for soccer cleats, balls, or whatever I could find,” Dennis says. Then he distributed the equipment to the kids in Zacapa.
The long-term plan, he says, is to prevent kids from getting involved in crime.
“In Central American countries, gangs start recruiting kids at a very early age. To prevent that, I thought maybe these kids could play soccer. There’s an inadequate number of parks. Schools are underfunded. There’s really not much to keep kids entertained. Sports can keep kids at a distance from violent crime.”