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Friends unite through soccer to help teammate in need

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Daniel Oliver-Perez, right, kicks the ball during a world cup tournament held at J.H. Rose high school to raise money for Daniel and his family on Dec. 16, 2017. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, December 17, 2017

For Daniel Oliver-Perez, soccer is more than just his favorite sport. He said it is his passion, the way he deals with stress, and is an integral part of the life he enjoys in Greenville. 

On Saturday, soccer united scores of Greenville residents to fight for Oliver-Perez’ very future, which is lucky, because he said he can use all the help he can get.

An 18-year-old senior at J.H. Rose High School, Oliver-Perez is a soft-spoken, dedicated and successful student athlete who by all accounts is a nice, loving, normal teenager who loves his family, friends and is trying to have a normal life — one full of things like playing soccer with his friends.

He also is working to provide for himself and his critically ill mother, finish high school, prepare for college and help his father, who is battling deportation. 

Samuel Oliver-Bruno, 46, was under orders from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to return to Mexico but instead took sanctuary at the CityWell United Methodist Church in Durham. Oliver-Bruno moved to Greenville in 1994 and has worked steadily in construction, including doing drywall and insulation work.

He has been on a work permit since 2014, but was not renewed in 2017, which initiated the deportation process. Oliver-Bruno will live at CityWell indefinitely until ICE delays his deportation or the government finds a way for him to obtain legal status, according to Viribiana Martinez of Alerta Migratoria, a Triangle-based advocacy group that arranged the sanctuary.

“For him it’s hard, because he can’t work, and my mom can’t work because she had open heart surgery and the doctor told her she can’t work for the rest of her life. It’s hard for him to see me in high school, and I’m about to graduate, and I can’t drop out because I have a bright future for myself,” Oliver-Perez said.

“He doesn’t want to leave, because if he leaves us, there’s a potential, there’s a moment when my mom can die, because my dad is the man of the house, he’s the one who pays my mom’s doctor bills, medicine bills, and if my mom doesn’t get that support from my dad, if she stops taking those pills, she can die.”

Oliver-Perez’ coach at Rose, Sam Lee, said that when the family officially got the news, Oliver-Perez had a meeting with his team and explained the situation, which Lee said was typical of Oliver-Perez’ mature character and how much he cares for his friends. 

Oliver-Perez said that he was most likely going to drop out of school, so that he could find a job and start trying to support his family. During that meeting, freshman player Jordan Taylor texted his mother that he wanted to do something to help. 

Over the course of the following weeks, many of the Rose players and their families put together a fundraising and awareness program for the family. The culmination of those efforts was a World Cup soccer tournament on Saturday that drew more than 150 people. The two-person teams paid $10 to play and the admission was $1. 

Beth Evans, a mom of one of the players, has been working closely with Oliver-Perez to set up bank accounts and manage expenses. She said they estimate Oliver-Perez needs about $1,600 a month to pay for rent, food, car insurance, medical bills, etc.

She said their goal is to raise about $10,000, which they think will get him to graduation in May. She said that many families and alumni of the school offered to help by making monthly payments, while others donated cash. As of the end of the event on Saturday, she said was feeling optimistic about getting him to graduation. 

“Graduating for me is really important for me because I’m the only child, and only my dad graduated from high school, my mom didn’t,” Oliver-Perez said. “It’s been a dream of mine since middle school that my dad and my mom both see me graduate.” 

Organizers of Saturday’s event said supporting Oliver-Perez was the ultimate goal. Lee said their focus was “absolutely” not about politics or immigration policy or even about Oliver-Bruno’s situation. He said they were all their trying to help a good kid make it through a trial in his life. 

“We’re out here to support Daniel, to make sure he’s getting the same opportunities as everyone else out here,” he said, adding that the fields and facilities used Saturday are commonly rented to groups for events, that it was not a specifically a Rose-endorsed event. “We knew we were going to be under fire a little bit, but this is solely to support Daniel so he doesn’t have to drop out of high school.”

Evans said once Oliver-Perez graduates, it should be easier for him to manage. She said he already has a scholarship to Pitt Community College, where he’ll study construction management, and he has lined up a paid internship for the spring and part-time job for while he is in college. 

“I just want to say if ICE gets this ... to stop the deportation, because it’s really hard for me and my mom,” Oliver-Perez said. “It’s just really hard. I don’t want to drop out, I want to be someone in the future. I want to see my dad see me in that stand with a diploma. I want to take care of them when I grow up. I just hope immigration sees this and they stop the deportation, that’s all I’m asking for.”

Oliver-Perez’s mother, Maria Pacheco-Perez, speaking through him and a cousin who were translating, said that she was amazed by the outpouring of support and help from those around her. 

“I am grateful for all the support we’re receiving, I could never imagine that would have this much support from everyone. I gives thanks to God for all these people and all the blessings that we are receiving,” she said. 

Rev. Bob Hudak of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Greenville showed up to the event about an hour after it began and presented Oliver-Perez and his mother with a $1,000 check. He said he felt driven to donate the funds after hearing about the story and their need. 

“I come from immigrant background. My grandparents came from Europe. It was a different time and different place, but none-the-less it is with my strong faith commitment that we’re talking about people like us, people that want to be free of terrorism, or have opportunities for their families,” he said. 

“I don’t think people making decisions in government would think that they’re dropping bombs right in their own country, and the collateral damage is breaking up homes of good families that represent the best of the values that I know my grandparents gave me as immigrants.” 

Contact Seth Gulledge at Sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579. Follow him on Twitter @GulledgeSeth

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