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Coming Home: AmeriCorps Members Return to Mentor Local Youth

By Staff
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AmeriCorps recently placed five young adults from the area  at Horace Mann Middle School and Crawford High School as part of The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities program. Each AmeriCorps mentor will work with 20 students during and after school. The goal is to encourage academic success and improve attitudes toward education.

The AmeriCorps members are planning four service projects during their 11-month program. The goal of these projects is to engage students, residents and community members around issues such as increasing school attendance, improving access to healthcare and decreasing childhood obesity and violence. Their ultimate goal is to make City Heights a healthier, stronger, more vibrant community.

Here is more about the AmeriCorps members, in their words:

Christine Ma and Gracelynne West | Photo Credit: Adam Ward

Christine Ma
Hi ya’ll! I’m Christine and I’m excited to embark on my year with Building Healthy Communities as an AmeriCorps Mentor and working closely with students at Horace Mann Middle School. A little background on me: I was born and raised in Los Angeles’ Chinatown neighborhood. I went to the University of California, San Diego, as a first-generation college student, and I majored in communications and minored in ethnic studies. I had plans for a career as an editor, but in my last year of college, I got heavily involved in student-of-color organizations and activism work, so with this, along with my ethnic studies classes, I really started to develop my social consciousness. After I graduated, I switched career paths to the nonprofit and education fields and working with youth.

After I graduated college, I moved back home and volunteered and interned at Asian- and Pacific Islander-focused nonprofits. I was involved with the Southeast Asian Community Alliance, where I helped the coordinator facilitate an afterschool program that educated high school students on social justice issues. It was here that I cemented my passion of social justice education for youth.

It was extremely rewarding for me to be involved in the same community that I grew up in. And it was so inspirational to see these young people doing youth organizing work and feeling like they have a direct impact in their community, and that is what I hope to continue supporting in more communities of color. One of my favorite aspects of working there were the one-to-one conversations I would have with students, which is why I was so excited for this AmeriCorps position, because I saw the need for more positive, emotional support for students.

Deyna Roberson
I am a 23-year-old San Diego native. I have a beautiful 2-year-old son and 5 younger sisters. I am a University of California, San Diego, graduate and am currently earning my master’s in public health, with a concentration in health promotion and behavioral science. After obtaining my master’s degree, I plan on pursuing a medical degree and hope to become a child and adolescent psychiatrist. I am also a NCAA track and field athlete and two time All-American. My hobbies include singing, songwriting, going to the beach and Boogie Boarding, and running track and field.

I chose to serve as a BHC AmeriCorps member to give back to my community, and more specifically, the children in it. I feel that as a member of the City Heights community, it is not only my passion but duty to help bring others up with me. I doubt I would have made it this far without the positive role models and influences I had growing up. I witnessed both my sister and brother fail to graduate from Crawford High School and this made me well aware that there is something missing in the system to motivate students to stay in school and to encourage them to plan for bright, healthy futures. As an AmeriCorps Mentor, I look forward to instilling hope in the students I will be working with. It’s my desire to not only be a positive role model for these student, but also an example of the many people who care about their well-being, are confident in their potential success, and are willing to invest in their futures.

Yen Vu
My name is Yen and I am one of the youth mentors at Crawford High School for Building Healthy Communities in City Heights. I am a daughter of Vietnamese refugees, born in Oklahoma and raised in the Los Angeles area. I moved to San Diego in 2007 to attend the University of California, San Diego. I am now a first generation college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in education studies.

While in college, I was involved in progressive students-of-color organizations geared toward social justice activism. I became familiar with City Heights through mentoring and tutoring at some of the local schools. I chose to return to City Heights after I graduated because I recalled how at home I felt when I first stepped foot there. It reflects the community I grew up in and the kind of place I hope to root myself.

Growing up, I often witnessed economic inequalities that affected my education and limited the resources that were available to my working-class parents. I wasn’t able to articulate or understand my family’s struggles or the challenges that people from communities like mine faced until I came to college. Through education, I became empowered and realized the potentials of social change and how I can take part in that movement. In college I started working with youth through implementing access and outreach programs that catered to underserved and underrepresented students. Immediately after graduation, I went to Oakland to pursue community organizing. While I was there, I realized that the skills I was learning in organizing aligned with my passion in working with youths. I believe that the most effective change happens in the community through collaboration and empowerment. I hold the same belief in my pursuance of a future career as an educator. I want to work inside the classroom, directly with students, to empower them to become more socially conscious and ready to question the structural barriers that affect them, their family, and their community.

Gracelynne West
Hi everyone! My name is Gracelynne West and I currently serve as one of the Building Healthy Communities AmeriCorps Mentors at Horace Mann Middle School. I am originally from San Diego, the North Park and Linda Vista area, and I am a graduate of San Diego High School and an alumna of the SDHS Women’s Tennis Team. I also recently graduated from the University of California, San Diego, as an ethnic studies major and I am passionate about working within my local community.

I was the first person in my family to attend college, so it was a big accomplishment for both my family and me as well. I have worked with youth in afterschool and summer enrichment programs. I also recently completed an AmeriCorps term with the local nonprofit, MAAC project, which provides services for low-income families and youth in Spring Valley. I really enjoy community engagement work and working with other community members to navigate resources and services.

I have served as a canvasser with Alliance San Diego in previous campaigns to educate and engage new and occasional voters in predominantly low-income communities of color. At first, it was difficult to assert myself to others, but I eventually built up confidence speaking to people by recognizing why I am passionate about community work. Every time I work with youth, I always learn something new or catch something that I have never thought of before; they have such diverse experiences and different views of the world, and I think that is the beauty of working with youth because we are both learning from each other.

Laura Yamaguchi
Hi everyone, my name is Laura Yamaguchi and I’m very excited to begin my second year as a BHC AmeriCorps Mentor at Crawford High School. Last year was such an adventure for me – a growth experience for myself as well as the students I mentored. I look forward to deepening my connections with students and encouraging them to live out their dreams.

I began my work with youth when I was 16 and my first job was teaching second graders about different birds at the San Diego Zoo. In college, I worked with student groups of color and outreached to San Diego high school students about college access. After graduating from the University of California, San Diego, with my bachelor of the arts in Spanish literature and a minor in ethnic studies, I pursued a career in youth- and community-based development in communities of color.

I started with a labor organizing internship at the Oakland International Airport, and then went on to empower youth through writing programs in San Francisco. I finally moved back to my hometown of La Mesa and I continued partnering with youth in schools as a special education assistant in the San Diego Unified School District. Last year, I pursued an opportunity to mentor ninth graders at Crawford High School through AmeriCorps. If it’s going to be anything like last year, I’m ready to take students surfing at the beach, making sushi with the Japanese club, going to San Diego State and UCSD high school conferences, and reciting lots and lots of One Direction lyrics.

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[Disclosure: Speak City Heights is funded by The California Endowment but operates as an independent media collaborative. The above article appeared in City Heights Life, which is funded and distributed by Price Charities.]


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One Response to Coming Home: AmeriCorps Members Return to Mentor Local Youth

  1. Pingback: Volviendo a Casa: Miembros de AmeriCorps Regresan como Mentores de la Juventud Local | Speak City Heights

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