My afterschool story begins when I was a child in afterschool programs in the South Valley community in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The South Valley is mainly a rural community and one of the most populated areas in Albuquerque.
I grew up in a neighborhood where drugs, alcohol, violence, poverty and tension, due to the lack of resources, were all around. My mother, an elementary school educator, made sure that I was exposed to positive, healthy opportunities by enrolling me in community and recreational programs that kept me focused, helped me make the right decisions and provided role models. Afterschool programs were safe havens and places to explore, to learn about society and to learn how to become a responsible young man. In them, I made friends who I am still in close contact with to this day.
As I got older, I realized that the work being done by staff and volunteers at the community centers in the South Valley was the type of work I would like to do someday. When I turned 15, I went to work for Bernalillo County Parks and Recreation and received "hands-on" training and work experience working as a recreational aide, leader, supervisor, and coordinator with children of all ages. I truly enjoyed providing recreational opportunities for youth. I continued to work in afterschool settings as I grew older. While attending college, I tutored at an afterschool program in the South Valley. There I discovered that one of my true passions in life is creating opportunities for young people to engage in positive youth development activities, and I learned how to help young people use their strengths to further their personal growth and development. As a tutor, the amount of positive feedback I received from youth, parents, and supervisors was exceptional. I knew I had found my calling.
That positive feedback motivated me to improve my writing skills so that I could create and develop programming for young people in afterschool settings. I set out to become a grant writer. As I got older, I was able to use my writing skills to help many of the afterschool programs I had participated in a child and teenager. One of my proudest accomplishments was providing funding through Intel Corporation to build a computer clubhouse at Westside Community Center. Now, young people that live where I grew up can take advantage of technology they would never have been exposed to otherwise.
I never would have had the prosperous life I am enjoying today without the exposure and opportunity that afterschool programs offer. I had the good fortune to participate in afterschool activities that provided me with positive pathways to explore.
Through these afterschool opportunities, both as a participant and as an administrator, I have learned how to communicate with others, the importance of community, and the myriad ways in which I can improve the lives of youth. It has been a blessing to be able to assist youth in many afterschool programs and settings.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The author is the former Project Director of the New Mexico Forum for Youth.