A Common Goal
Photo by Ezra Millstein
Major League Soccer star Brian Ching teams up with Teresa Urbano to help build her family a new place to live — and play.
Brian Ching has earned a Most Valuable Player award, won the Major League Soccer Cup three times and is the Houston Dynamo’s all-time leader in goals scored. Ching also became the first Hawaii native to play for the United States national team and has scored 11 goals in international competition.
“When I score a goal, it’s kind of like a primal joy,” says Ching. “You want to chase that.”
A little over a year ago, Ching found a way to chase another kind of joy. He partnered with Houston Habitat for Humanity to sponsor a home in a Habitat neighborhood. By rallying his teammates, his team’s charity foundation and other donors, Ching raised $75,000 to build an energy-efficient, solar-powered house.
He came out often to volunteer and got to know Teresa Urbano, the single mother of two children working to build — and purchase — the house. For Ching, it was a type of happiness far different than any he had experienced through soccer. “You actually see the impact you can have on a family and a community,” he says. “I think that brings more joy to my heart than anything I’ve ever done on the field.”
Brian Ching steps off the soccer field to build a house — and a lasting friendship.
The Journey Home
Long before Ching offered an assist, Urbano first took the initiative to help herself.
In 2009, Urbano hand-wrote an application letter to Houston Habitat. She was living at her parents’ house at the time, along with her daughter Julianna, now 10, and her son Aidan, now 4.
Urbano appreciated her parents’ kindness, but felt frustrated that she was not able to provide more. “It was me and the kids in one room, so it was very crowded,” she says. “They felt like they didn’t have any freedom.”
She had maintained a solid job for 13 years, but with parental responsibilities and past credit issues, Urbano didn’t think buying a home would be possible. When she applied to Habitat, she still didn’t see herself owning a home. “But the kids make you want to be better,” Urbano says. “You want to do the best and give them the best.”
Ecstatic when she got the acceptance call, she had to do some digging when she was told Brian Ching would be the house sponsor. She knew he was a big deal in Houston, but didn’t keep up much with sports.
“So I Googled him,” she admits with a laugh. “And I thought, ‘Whoa, this is someone really important here!’”
Meeting Ching in person put Urbano at ease. “He was just a humble, nice, down-to-earth person,” she says. “Very friendly, always smiling. He was happy to be out there. You could tell this was something that he wanted to do. Not something that was forced on him. That came out very genuinely from him.”
Ching says he could relate to Urbano quickly. “Teresa does remind me of my own mother,” he says. “[My mom] provided for three boys and pretty much raised us on her own. So I understand how difficult that is for a mother. And you look at the way Julianna and Aidan interact with [Teresa], and you can see that she’s a great mother, too.”
“I worked in the plantation fields before back in Hawaii, but I’d never built a house or done anything like that.”
Ching worked mostly on the section of the house that would become Aidan’s bedroom — a room later decorated with Houston Dynamo posters, bed sheets and pillowcases for the young sports fan. Ching laughs now thinking back on his construction efforts. “I worked in the plantation fields before back in Hawaii, but I’d never built a house or done anything like that,” he says. “It was kind of a humbling experience!
“But I learned that Habitat is filled with people who care. People out there not looking for any notoriety, just doing it from the bottom of their hearts. It’s special. You know, my little part in it, one little house — it puts a smile on your face.”
The home put a smile on the faces of Julianna and Aidan, as well. The family spent their first night in the new house sleeping on the floor. “We just wanted to be at our new place,” Teresa says, “so we slept on the floor with pillows and blankets, and we were happy.”
At her house dedication, Urbano told Ching and other volunteers that they were always welcome at her house. And she meant it. “You really can’t get anywhere without people helping,” she says. “I didn’t do this on my own. … We all made it happen together.”
Photo by Ezra Millstein
“Come inside, come inside,” Urbano says, ushering a group of visitors into her dining room. It’s been a year since her family’s house was finished.
Urbano and her mother arrange containers of barbecue, potato salad, beans and bread on a tall, round kitchen table. Over in the living room, Julianna is spinning her younger brother around in a chair to make him laugh. Aidan needs the entertaining; he would prefer to be outside hurling a white padded stadium seat that he likes to use as a Frisbee.
Ching is among the day’s guests, an hour removed from a hot, midday practice with the Dynamo. This isn’t the first time he’s talked with Urbano since her house dedication. He’s checked in on several occasions to see how the house is and how her kids are doing.
“The whole neighborhood comes and hangs out here!”
Today is a day for catching up. Ching’s team is moving into a new home of their own in a couple of weeks — a brand-new soccer stadium. Construction is wrapping up in the Urbanos’ neighborhood, too. The last eight houses in their Habitat community will be finished this summer.
After lunch, Aidan chatters with Ching non-stop about the Transformers movie he just watched as they toss his seat-cushion Frisbee in the driveway. Julianna, a budding artist and veterinarian-to-be, tells Ching about how their house has become the gathering spot for kids on their street.
“The whole neighborhood comes and hangs out here!” Urbano confirms. “It’s funny because I hear all the time: ‘Miss Teresa! Miss Teresa!’ I play out there with them. And I notice that the kids feel more free now. They just run around and have so much fun.”
“That’s what I did growing up,” Ching says. “We were outdoors every day with our friends. It’s great to see that here. Builds the camaraderie in the neighborhood. You get to know each other and look out for each other.”
Soon, the games gravitate toward the field just past the cul-de-sac at the end of the Urbanos’ street. Julianna rides her pink-and-white bicycle around the sidewalk, while Aidan is finally willing to switch to a new activity: kicking a soccer ball.
“I got to take pictures of Aidan kicking the ball around with Brian (back when the house was being built),” Urbano says. “He had a blast. Just to have a male role model like that to look up to, it’s great for the kids now that that they know him.”
Today, Ching suggests Aidan try heading the ball. He tosses the ball softly above Aidan’s head and tells him to jump. Aidan can’t quite time his leaps, so each time Ching tosses the ball, it hits Aidan in the head first; the jump comes after the fact. The scene has everyone laughing — Aidan included.
When it’s time for Ching to leave, he takes a few photos with everyone in front of the house. After saying his goodbyes, he takes his keys out of his pocket and heads toward his car. One of his key chains is a gift from Teresa, a memento she gave him at her house dedication.
It reads: We create our tomorrow by what we dream of today.