For Sharon First Selectman Brent Colley, Saturday’s soccer match between Berkshire School and Kent School carried an extra excitement.
It wasn’t just the thrill of seeing his own daughter, Emma Colley, play defense for Berkshire, it was also about a 17-year-old junior who plays on the Berkshire offense named Jessica Lomo.
Lomo is from Ghana and is in the United States through a program called the Rising Stars of Africa. The Colleys have hosted her in their home for parts of the last two years, and she’s become such a part of the family that he calls her his “adopted daughter.”
The problem was, after a return visit home in June, Lomo struggled to get a timely appointment at the U.S. Embassy that would allow her to return to the United States. She had her plane ticket and she had her visa. All she needed was that appointment. She was scheduled for April of 2022.
“I was kind of nervous because of COVID, this might go bad, and then it went bad,” Colley said. “In late July, she’s texting me and my worst nightmare came true. My job was to kind of keep her calm and tell her I’m on it and I’ll figure something out. She would have lost her entire junior year.”
Instead, Colley spoke with Hearst Connecticut Media and was able to call upon anyone and everyone who would listen to their story.
“That was the base and from there I played all my cards, from senators to social media to friends that I know,” Colley said. “We had to kick it into high gear. I opened a Twitter account and started using hashtags and started reaching out to anyone who is anyone in Ghana.”
Beyond the sheer abundance of communications, he still isn’t sure what exactly helped Lomo get the appointment she needed to return to the United States and her school. All he knows is that the woman who met Lomo during the appointment told her she “must be a very special girl.”
“Everyone cared. It’s one of those things. I don’t know how it happened,” Colley said. “She’s so relieved and so happy.”
The two were both relieved when they saw each other for the first time in months, a few days prior to Colley watching her play on the soccer field.
“It was emotional,” Colley said. “I was just going to pick up my daughter from school. Emma said someone wants to see you. And there she was. We were just talking about the whole journey and it was out of control. All she needed was this token appointment that was unobtainable.”
Colley then saw her again a few days after that first meeting.
“She just smiled and waved to me so warmly. I know she appreciates it,” Colley said.
“She’s like an adopted daughter. When you have someone with you that long...she became my daughter.”
When Lomo first came to live with the Colley family, she was understandably a quiet presence around the household, often spending the majority of her time in her room.
“Obviously, as you can imagine it’s got to be difficult,” Colley said. “She had to get used to our two large black labs.”
But then, a bond started forming over soccer, the reason Lomo was selected to be part of the Rising Stars of Africa’s program.
“We connected via soccer. She’s here because of that,” Colley said. “I played soccer growing up. She kind of taught me about the sport. We got into her favorite team, which is Liverpool. We watched all these documentaries.”
There was one specific part of the Liverpool experience that resonated with Colley, and it was the traditional singing of the songs “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” There was something about that song, Colley said, that felt perfect for their situation.
“There’s this song they sing at the stadium about never walking alone. That’s pretty cool,” Colley said. “It’s about the fans supporting the team. I got to know her better and understood the situation. I got to know her so much better through that.”
So Colley went online and looked for a Liverpool flag with those exacts words on it, purchased it and hung it over Lomo’s bed as a surprise.
“I said just so you know, you’ll always have a home here and you’ll never walk alone,” Colley said.
That jumpstarted a bonding that has Colley feeling to this day that Lomo is like his daughter. The family taught her how to fish and would bring her down to Bridgeport to eat Ghanaian food together.
Lomo is now back at the Berkshire School, where she lives and takes classes, and is also back on the soccer field, where she’s contributing just like she used to. Lomo had two assists in her team’s 4-1 win over the Kent School.
“At the end of the day it’s a good story,” Colley said.