Pal Chol has been living in the United States for more than 10 years now, but he just recently became a citizen.
He and his family emigrated to the states from a refugee camp in Uganda in 2004 when he was nine. They had fled their home in the South Sudan during the civil war that tore apart families, villages and the country after many years of fighting and bloodshed.
While most of his extended family moved to Australia at the time, Pal, his father and younger brother, Tony, relocated to America — and they landed in Omaha. They’ve called it home ever since (his father has since moved to Tennessee).
Pal attended school in Papillion before doing what he calls “irresponsible behavior” that landed him at Boys Town several years ago.
And then a light went on that’s carried forward through his life so far.
“I had a tough time with my dad, and when I realized that he wasn’t always going to be there for me, I realized I had to let go and grow up,” said Pal, whose birth name is Emmanuel but was changed to Pal when he arrived in the United States.
He also wanted to be a good role model for Tony, four years his junior. He turned his life around, becoming Prom King and a peer mentor, joining the student council, playing football and soccer and generally becoming the outstanding young man he always knew he could be. He enrolled in Iowa Western in 2012, and quickly excelled in class and even played JV soccer.
It was about this same time Pal learned about the Omaha Home for Boys’ Branching Out program that helps independent men and women (ages 14-24) in various ways.
He’s been active in the program ever since, keeping close ties with his Independent Living Specialist Jim Hubbard and learning new ways to live independently and be successful. He said he was honored to be chosen by his classmates as the only student to speak at his recent graduation.
In April, Pal left for a four-month trip to Australia to reconnect with family he hasn’t seen since he left Uganda. When he returns, he’ll start classes at the University of Nebraska Omaha, majoring in criminal justice. His goal is to work for the FBI.
“There have been several people in my life who saw a spark in me when I was having trouble, and I am very grateful,” Pal said. “I’ve been given a second chance, and Branching Out and Jim have been a big part of that. I owe a lot to the program and to Jim.”