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Guest blog: Afterschool set me on the path to success

By Guest Blogger

By Ashley Castillo, an alumna of After-School All-Stars in Orlando, Fla. Ashley shared her story on Capitol Hill on April 21, at a panel of expert speakers sharing their stories and experiences in defense of 21st Century Community Learning Centers funding.

As one of the thousands of students my afterschool program has helped, I would like to share a little bit about myself and tell you how much this program has meant to me and my family.

Like thousands of kids across the nation, growing up during these times has been very hard. For as long as I can remember, my family always struggled to get by. Both of my parents are deaf, and as of recently, my mother has had problems with her vision. It has always been difficult for them to hold steady jobs and provide for me, my brother, and my sister. We had to move constantly and often lived in places that were so bad that no one else should ever have to live there. These struggles caused many fights and issues between my parents and they eventually got a divorce.

I don’t think people realize how these kinds of problems affecting adults can turn around and affect kids. In my case, I became very shy and did not talk a lot in elementary school. I kept a lot of my feelings inside and did not participate in many activities. I did not feel safe in my neighborhood and my parents could never afford to put me in an afterschool or summer program.

Despite these challenges, I now consider myself a pretty lucky kid. When I was in sixth grade, I joined the After-School All-Stars program in Orlando. The program was great all throughout my middle school career. They helped me to keep my grades up and even gave me a chance to play sports for the first time. When summer came, my brother and I were able to attend camp for free because of the Summer of Dreams program. All I had to do was sign up. We were given breakfast, lunch, and snack during the summer plus weekend food packs to take home. During the school year, we were fed supper during the program and given a snack.

When I finished middle school, I was surprised to find out that my relationship with After-School All-Stars was not over. They still continued to give me a home away from home. In high school, I participated in the Opportunity Jobs Academy, an eight-week curriculum that focuses on job readiness, on-the-job training experiences, interview skills, and mentoring from the local business community. As a sophomore and junior, I volunteered as a junior counselor because I wanted to give back to a program that had given me so much. What I loved the most was being able to help and mentor kids who are going through the same issues I experienced. I can talk to them about the fact that it is okay to ask for help and that they should not be ashamed of who they are or the problems their families may be going through. The summer before my senior year, I was offered my first job—as a paid junior counselor in my program.

I am now counting the days to graduation. I have been accepted into Valencia College and have been awarded the Bridges to Success Scholarship. I plan to begin my education there and eventually transfer to pursue a career in nursing. I have my heart set on Adventist University of Health Sciences, which partners with the Florida Hospital and offers a lot of hands-on learning experiences, or the University of Central Florida, which has an amazing nursing program.

My journey with After-School All-Stars has helped make me the person I am now and prepare me for the road that lies ahead. Not only was I given a safe place to call home, but I will be graduating high school with valuable work experience because of the program. Most kids my age can’t say the same thing.