Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mr. Gonzales Has the Right Formula for Volunteering

By Susan Blalock

Alternative House is proud to announce that Jose Gonzales who is a volunteer at our Culmore Teen Center was nominated and won a volunteer award. He was awarded the Norbert Grabowski Founder’s Award by the Optimists Club of Central Fairfax on Tuesday, June 23, 2010.

Mr. Gonzales first began to come to Alternative House’s drop-in Teen Center in Falls Church to pick up his daughter who was employed as one of our Youth Workers. While waiting for his daughter to complete her work, he noticed that many of the teens in the program were working on homework and that some were really struggling with their math assignments. He took it upon himself to speak with the staff to see if the teens could use a tutor for their work. It has been very difficult for us to get tutors, especially in math, for this program and the staff were so happy that Mr. Gonzales was willing to help out. He has now been coming to the Teen Center on a weekly basis to help teens with their Algebra and Geometry work for about seven months. During this time, Mr. Gonzales’ relationship with the teens has changed from being just a tutor to also being a mentor and a role model. As the teens learned more about him, they really came to respect and look up to him. Mr. Gonzales immigrated to the United States from Peru when he was young and struggled to learn English, assimilate into the American culture, and despite his own personal economic struggles he continued to pursue his education. Many of the youth at the Teen Center struggle with these same issues and Mr. Gonzales has been a source of hope and inspiration for them. In addition to making a difference for these young people academically and on a personal level, Mr. Gonzales serves as a positive role model to the teens by giving back to his community. As a construction worker Mr. Gonzales has the opportunity to work additional hours to support his family, but he has made sure to leave his schedule open on Wednesday afternoons so that he can work with the teens. A perfect example of the respect that the teens have for Mr. Gonzales occurred about a week ago, Mr. Gonzales arrived at the Teen Center to work with one particular teen and the young man did not have his school materials. He said that he had forgotten about tutoring and would run home to get his books. As soon as the teen left, the staff thought that he would not return and that he had used forgetting his books as an excuse to get out of tutoring. A few minutes later, the teen returned to the Teen Center with all of his school materials and worked with Mr. Gonzales for a couple of hours. Many of the teens have seen that working with Mr. Gonzales helps them with their school work and jump at the chance to get math help from him. For many of these teens, there is no one at home who can help them with their school work so working with Mr. Gonzales prevents them from getting frustrated and lost in their school work which has helped some teens bring up their grades. Not only has Mr. Gonzales inspired some of the teens to do better and given them the tools they need to succeed, but he has also helped youth stay in school. The youth that the Teen Center serves all come from low-income families that struggle financially even during good economic times. Some of these teens have been put in a position where their families want them to leave school in order to get jobs to financially help support the family. Mr. Gonzales has worked with a couple of these teens to help them find a good compromise that will allow them to stay in school and work outside of school to help the finances of their family.

Congratulations Mr. Gonzales and thank you for all of your hard work to help the youth in our program.

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