Meeting the LEAD Interns: Carlos

Carlos sat across from me, somewhat shy and yet somehow also curious—about what I’m not sure, maybe our conversation. I hadn’t told him much only that I worked for RYAA and I was wondering if I could interview him for both the blog and the newsletter. He readily agreed.

He is almost seventeen and will be a senior this year. This summer he will be an intern in RYAA’s LEAD program. The LEAD (Leadership, Education And Development) program for high school students that spans six weeks in the summer.  In the morning the interns will attend classes as well educational and career exposure trips and in the afternoon they run and coach sport programs for kids. The program is suppose to empower the East Palo Alto high school students with a better understanding of the opportunities and work necessary to excel after graduation while simultaneously forcing them to exercise their leadership skills while working with children.

Carlos and I began our conversation with soccer. He likes soccer. A lot!

I got the feeling that he was pretty good at it as well though he remained adamantly humble throughout our time together. I discovered that he plays with a nationally ranked team and that he derives great pleasure in just practicing by himself.

Carlos in his soccer jersey.

Soccer was the reason Carlos heard about RYAA and he began playing when he was younger. He befriended Shannon and over the years kept in contact. This last year he coached 10 year old soccer for RYAA. Of his experienced he reflected.

“I loved training those kids. They improved so much and we even got really, really close to the finals.”

He stated that his kids learned a lot about teamwork one day when one of them had been made fun of after tripping over. He gave the team a pep-talk followed by a serious conversation. “I was surprised that they were willing to be serious and listen.” Carlos beamed with pride. He described how the next game the kid who fell helped the team go from 1-0 to 1-2, and win the game in the last two minutes.

I asked Carlos what he was looking forward to at LEAD. He responded with some profoundly wise words. He said that the was looking forward to meeting new people, but also that he was looking forward to new experienced with the kids and listening and hearing what their life was like. This, he explained, “would help me to remember my own memories and past, which would in turn help me to better help me give them advice and support in their life and learning goals.” Here I sat back in my chair and listened as Carlos talked about the importance of listening to younger children and how that simple act along can empower them in getting ahead.

By this point in our conversation, it was evident to me that our discussion of his life and the moments of maturity had excited Carlos. He was much more open and engaged . When asked what he wanted to do with his life, Carlos was quick with a response.

“I want to become an engineer.”

Preferably at UCLA he adds. He described how programing robots as well as designing and then, launching rockets had inspired him. Learning math and attending the NASA step program at Moffett Field had given him a passion for technology and technology.

By the end of our time together, I too found myself inspired by Carlos’ story and ambitions. He cares about kids and wants to help his community. He has big dreams and is willing to put in the hard work and discipline necessary to work towards them. Without a doubt I am sure that his time with LEAD will be a time for him to perfect his leadership skills and gain necessary knowledge and skills to prepare for his future.

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Why did you move to East Palo Alto? An interview with Steve and Amy Joh

In a previous post we introduced the idea of “relocation” as a beginning step towards community development and spreading the Kingdom of God here on Earth. Like the Pekarys, The Joh family is another family who have moved to East Palo Alto after having learnt from Dr. Perkins’ promotion of Jesus and divine relocation.

In the beginning…

Before they were married and before they were even dating, Amy and Steve separately heard about the value of relocation and incarnational ministry while working with Bayshore Christian Ministries (BCM). For both of them this was right after college. Amy had moved straight to East Palo Alto in order to volunteer with BCM and quickly discovered the practical aspects of living in the city she was serving. In reflection she described how, “…you see more of the needs of the community as they start to become your needs.”

Having grown up in Los Altos, Steve recalls that the only thing he knew about EPA was that he was told not to stop on his way across the Dumbarton bridge. Yet after graduating Steve’s interest in social justice and ministry resulted in a job with BCM and he soon found himself in EPA all the time.

While working together at BCM, Steve and Amy began to date and the two began to become increasingly familiar with the families, youth and city of EPA. After Steve got a job with Highway Community church the two married and moved to Sunnyvale.

Relocating back to East Palo Alto!

“Being away in Sunnyvale made me realize how much people care about this city and it made me realize the real depth of the community here in East Palo Alto. People are more connected; they fight more for their community and have pride from being from here. The people of this city have worked hard for this place and they love it here, this is their community.” –Amy

After a year of living in Sunnyvale, Steve and Amy were compelled to move back and onto Beech Street. Steve was initially hesitant but eventually came to a place where he felt peace with the move. Steve commented that, “not only was it very convenient, with our current house being so close to BCM, but we knew it was both good and right.”  Aside from the practicality of Amy working just a few blocks away from home (an increasingly important detail since the arrival of their second daughter), both Steve and Amy have described the move and relocation as a step of obedience for them.

Steve remarks that, “Biblically speaking, there’s a constant theme of there being something special about the poor. God is with the poor.” Amy added that, “God cares about the poor. We felt that we should go where God is, and God feels more visible here than in the surrounding suburbia. Hard things happen here but being part of a community that suffers, forced to be aware, to participate, to live through that suffering has forced us to have a deeper faith and hope that is in your face.”

The Joh family

Thoughts on Relocation.

Both Steve and Amy have remarked that the step of relocating and living incarnationally has benefitted their ministries. Amy has found that it is easier to connect to the people she serves at BCM and that living in the same community helps to ease barriers. Kids and parents alike respect and treat her different. The act of merely living in the same community, Amy has found, “demonstrates the depths of how much you care in a way that words can’t.” Steve has found that living in EPA has made it easier for him to challenge and change perceptions that people in the church may have regarding the city. The house has served as a sort of “bridge home” that serves a safe place for Christians from outside EPA to begin to think about serving those in more tough situations. It also has forced him to think about living out what he preaches as someone on staff at Highway. Living in EPA has enabled him to live out what he teaches when it comes to loving the poor and underprivileged.

In moving to EPA the Johs are trying to follow the footsteps of Jesus, who himself relocated from heaven to Earth in order to share with his community the love of God. Since doing so they have learned new things about themselves, about God and about what it means to be a part of a community. It’s not always easy, as the couple have described the grief of seeing friends and acquaintances go through difficult times that have included gangs, drugs and death. They also add that they are very much still trying to figure things out and know that they will eventually have to decide where to send their daughters to school. In the meantime, Amy’s concluding thoughts on the manner is that, “While relocation is not for everyone, for those who are working with the poor, it’s very important.”

Cesar Perez on LEAD

Over this past summer, I had the privilege of working at LEAD. LEAD is a summer job open to teenagers and it provides them with leadership skills so that they can make a difference in their community (East Palo Alto). As many of us know, East Palo Alto is not the best neighborhood existent. East Palo Alto is a small community that lacks many key things; LEAD, however helped me and others fill in a very important gap in the lives of many children growing up in this neighborhood. As children grow up they need to feel loved, either by their parents or by someone whom they grow up with. A way to show a child that you love them is by giving them your attention, even if it’s for the shortest time. However, many  parents work during the day so they need a place for their children to be and feel loved and they have that opportunity at RYAA.

As LEAD took on a load of kids attending RYAA, I was shown that kids really do need attention and love from any person possible. Every day we would work with these kids, which gave us the opportunity to build a relationship with them personally. Some of the relationships we built developed over the course of one day or even just a second. What helped us build these relationships was making them feel important. A simple high-five made the day of any one of those kids. A smile from them completed our goal of making a change in the community. However, I must admit that it was hard keeping calm while working with so many active kids. Sometimes I felt like I couldn’t handle the kids, but I learned a trick to get the children to realize they needed to behave. I would focus on the ones behaving, and while my attention was still given equally would the children did not realize that.

I thought that when it was all over I would never see the kids again, but I was wrong. I bump into the kids all the time and it’s awesome because they remember you so well and ask for the other LEADers. Overall I think it was a great experience and I can confidently say that the kids were touched by LEAD’s work because smiles and love, to a kid, is worth more than anything in the world. I’d also like to acknowledge Shannon’s work and everything he has done for East Palo Alto because if it weren’t for him the lives of these kids would be totally different. I want to thank him for allowing me to be part of LEAD and I’m sure the kids thank him as well for putting together such a great camp.

by Cesar Perez

Fredy Torres: Learning to Lead

What we believe and advocate here at RYAA is the transformational power of faith-based mentoring, leadership and development of character through positive opportunities—primarily through our sport programs. Stories of successful character development are incredibly encouraging because they testify not to our own efforts but to God’s power and goodness. One of the most crucial elements to the realization of this success however, is the willingness of individuals to take responsibility for their lives and to be open to change. Fredy Torres is one young man who not only went through RYAA’s soccer program but has also put much time, energy and hard work into making constructive and affirmative life choices. Fredy shared his story with us, and he has agreed to let us share it with you.

In 8th grade Fredy was not on a good path. There was one friend that was a negative influence and Fredy recalls he was making some poor decisions, “I was starting to get into some bad habits.” A moment of change came when a different friend, Adrian began to persistently invite him to play soccer with RYAA. Fredy wasn’t interested, partly because he didn’t play soccer and partly because he couldn’t afford it. His friend was very persistent though and when Shannon offered him to work off the application fee, Fredy decided that he would join.

“At first I was like, ‘Ahh work!’—I didn’t like it.” Fredy comments on the arrangement, but he quickly added that he noticed Shannon made him do things that weren’t too hard— gardening, picking up trash etc.—and Fredy appreciated the chance Shannon was giving him. Eventually spending so much time with RYAA meant that he didn’t have time to hang out with the friend who was negatively influencing him. Fredy credits RYAA with getting him off the streets and changing his life forever.

“Soccer is now such a big part of my life.” Yet it wasn’t always that way and Freddy remembers that when he was still learning to play, he would hog the ball and he wasn’t much of a team player. As he played more he began to change and he learned to trust others around him, to trust his teammates and share responsibility. He realized that the team had to work together in order to win and that this instilled in him leadership values. On the inner changes Fredy explains, “I was no longer a lone wolf but a part of the pack.” He continues with a hint of amusement in his voice, “Our soccer team was called ‘Wolf Pack’.”

Fredy’s experience with RYAA’s soccer program and the positive impact it was having on his life opened him up to new things. Through a class at Carlmont High School he was able to talk to venture capitalist and learn entrepreneurial skills and business which all contributing him to winning money in youth business programs. Having to do things like give a presentation at the Stanford Stadium before a full audience and five judges from places like Google and Yahoo taught him a lot about himself and about entrepreneurial skills and business. He and a team of other students won first place in a Business Plan competition through BUILD (www.build.org). A mentor provided through BUILD has stuck by him up until where he is now, acting as a fatherly figure and assisting with school. All of this hard work has culminated with him having a deep appreciation and passion for business that has landed him at Notre Dame de Namur University studying for his degree in business administration. Fredy is now a leader in his family, being the first one to go to university.

Fredy Torres is second from the left: Fredy and his team win a BUILD competition

Much of this might not have been happened if RYAA or Shannon hadn’t been there to give Fredy the chance he needed to develop his life. Fredy described how Shannon was “always there for him and always had time him.” This had an enormously constructive impacted Fredy’s life and he also described how Shannon’s belief in God influenced not just him but every person Shannon came into contact with. Even now, Fredy will attend bible studies with Shannon on Saturdays and this has been a source of hope and positive force for him. Fredy’s past and present experience with RYAA has showed him—as he says in his own words—“What separates the boys from the men.” It is exactly this type of development of character that heartens RYAA and helps to push it forward. We praise God for Fredy and thank Him for the work that has taken place in Fredy’s life.

Avi Barrigan Speaks Up About How SUMMER LEAD Program Helped Her Realize She Does Make a Difference

The experience I had with lead was one of the most memorable in my life. They offered me so much and I benefited from the program more than others benefited from me: I made good friendships and had my first job experience. I learned so much, but the one thing that stuck with me most were the leadership classes.

Because it gave me a broader view of my community, this class stood out from all the other classes the program offered. LEAD helped me realize that I do make a difference, and I always can make a difference through the little things I do.

The program may seem like a simple first job experience, but it’s much more.  I could see that through all that Bay Shore ministries was doing for us: like taking us out to visit colleges or preview career options. They weren’t just giving us a few worthwhile classes, or a jobs for a few lucky teenagers, they were building up this community, 12 teenagers at a time.

– Avi Barrigan (Summer LEAD student in 2011)

Trial and Triumph in Leading and Coaching

As Jesus left the world, He left us with a commandment to take the gospel to all the nations and teach them to follow all that He commanded.  Many have understood this as a call to go to foreign countries for short or long term missions trips to preach the gospel.  But we have many needy people right here in our own home nation too!  Some need material needs, but everybody needs love.  We encourage people to see coaching as an opportunity to spread the gospel through planting the seeds of Christ’s love and hopefully the end result is that both yourself and the youth will become (in terms of character and love) more like the savior Jesus Christ!

RYAA Soccer coach Greg Ullom describes how coaching affected him and the youth he served:

Well,this season was filled with mixed feelings for me. That is not to say that the things that were tough were bad. Rather, they were opportunities to get better. The tough times were always accompanied with sweet individual moments with the kids. I found it very difficult to communicate the importance of of certain things like team work, Christ-like attitudes, and soccer skills when the kids were in a large group.  However, when I would be walking to the field – say during a water break – I was usually approached by a kid on my team who would alway be excited to share with me a piece of their day or some other nugget of personal information about there lives. The cool thing was that it wasn’t the same kid every time!

As I think back on the season, I believe I actually spent one-on-one time with every kid on my team.  And the cool thing is that they all seemed delighted to talk with me. Of course, there were some kids I got to know better than others. And through the season these were the glimmers of light that really kept me motivated. The other thing that helped to keep me motivated was that I felt, on a number of occasions, the Lord reminding me that I have no idea how my interactions with the kids was affecting them.  Therefore, He reminded me to keep a good attitude and stay aligned with Christ.

– Greg Ullom, RYAA Soccer Coach

That final line says it all.  For Coach Greg, the result was he had a motivating force for staying aligned with Christ.  Also in his personal relationships with the youth, he helped keep them aligned with Christ as well!  We are all unique members with varying gifts of the same body.  How does God want to use you and your gifts for His glory? Won’t you prayerfully consider if God is calling for your gifts to serve with the RYAA community?

If so, please contact us and we will help you answer that call.