On the precipice of his graduation from Nimitz High School, Zaylin Washington is headed to California on a football scholarship! His journey has been far from easy – his childhood was marred with instability, being separated from his siblings, shuffling between various family members, foster care and a brief stint with homelessness.  

He recalls a time when he was very young and living with an older cousin, being told every night, “Good night, I love you.” One evening he questioned, “What is that? I don’t know what that means”. After some custody battles, Washington eventually went to live with an aunt and began attending Schulze Elementary School, where he found some solace in school.

“But I didn’t know what love was, so I wasn’t really the best kid in school and messed up a lot… just looking for attention from anyone to notice I was here,” Washington shares. Though he was sometimes picked on by other kids for having old clothes, his teachers noticed signs that there was more going on at home and called Child Protective Services (CPS). He was eventually pulled into the foster care system and later removed by his father into yet another troubled household. 

Things seemed to improve for a few years, and in the 7th grade, he joined the Bowie Middle School football team, where he started to gain respect for his talent and skill on the field and his teammates became a brotherhood. 

“Football was a way I could express my emotions and was a good outlet… everything would go quiet when I put that helmet on,” Washington says. “It was good to know there were people who had my back.”

When Washington entered Nimitz High School as a freshman, the challenges at home worsened. Still, he continued to play football as his lifeline, excelling on the field and finding his footing in the classroom. He was invited to attend a youth group by a close friend and teammate and began discovering his faith and finding a new family in the church.

One day his sophomore year, he came home to discover all of his belongings on the front lawn and was told he was no longer welcome there. Feeling like he had nowhere left to turn, he lived out of his backpack for two grueling weeks and told no one. Several coaches and teachers took notice and asked if things were OK but Washington chose to hide his situation because he didn’t want others to worry. Sensing the truth, his youth group pastor, Jack, asked the question point blank, inquiring where he was living. When Washington said that he didn’t have a home, Pastor Jack replied, “Well, you have one now”.

Since then, Washington’s life has been completely transformed. He became a leader both on and off the field, mentoring younger kids on mission trips and making his mark on the Nimitz football team. He caught the attention of Feather River College, where he’ll attend college on a football scholarship. He plans to major in kinesthesiology to keep in touch with his love of sports and also connect and help other players. Washington dreams of one day opening his own sports center where he can provide solace for kids from all walks of life. 

Zaylin Washington’s story is a testament to the power of resilience, finding your chosen family, faith and the compassion of the community. We can’t wait to see where his postgraduate journey takes him!