Monday, March 24, 2014

Every Day is an Opportunity

The following post was written by one of our second year volunteers, Cynthia Velasquez. She currently serves in Redwood City, CA.

“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think” A.A. Milne

This quote has meant so much to me throughout my life that now it’s on the computer screen in the classroom at the Siena Youth Center.  It is there to inspire and motivate all of my students. Before I continue, let me tell you about the Siena Youth Center, or SYC as we like to call it. SYC is an afterschool program where kids from the neighborhood, mostly from public schools, come for homework help, extracurricular activities, fitness fun, and much more. SYC not only is an afterschool program, it is a family, and more importantly, it is a safe place for the youth to be.
Many of our families have not had the opportunity to advance their education here in the United States, making it difficult to find well paying jobs. In addition, many of our students come from single parent households working multiple jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Another reality is that many of the parents do not speak English well, making it difficult for them to help their children with schoolwork. These family dynamics are why SYC is such an important place in the neighborhood. 
Every day, I walk into a gym full of very energetic 3rd-8th graders full of dreams for their future. Every day, I am constantly reminded of how difficult life is going to be for many of them. Every day, my heart breaks a little when I see how far behind many of them are. Every day, I am bombarded with hugs and filled with love from my younger students. Every day, I see a glimmer of hope in some of my students who did not think they had potential. Every day, I see the smiles and boost of confidence from my students when they accomplished an extremely difficult task during homework time.  Every day, is a challenge of ups and downs, but it makes every great moment even better.

At SYC, I focus mainly on the educational aspects of the center. Every afternoon, I help more than 20 3rd-5th graders with their homework with the help of another coach and sometimes volunteers. During this time, it is difficult not to bang my head the wall as I try to help multiple students at once while trying to keep the room chaos free.  As I mentioned before, many of our students are very far behind academically, making homework extremely difficult. There are days I wish I had a one volunteer per student to really sit with them to complete their homework. There are days I wish I had more hours in my day with them to sit and read with them one-on-one. Even though that is not the reality for us, it is heartwarming to see volunteers dedicate their time to help. It is rewarding to see volunteers really take interest in the students and their success. During this Lenten season, I invite you to dedicate some extra time you have as volunteer at an afterschool program or another organization. If you do not have the time, think about donating an old computer, books, or unused school supplies. I assure you that dedicating a couple hours a month or donating unused items will make a difference in someone’s life. 
Imagine this gym filled with children working towards academic and fitness goals!
Cynthia challenges you to give some time to an organization this Lent

Can you spot Cynthia among her students?

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