Success Story: Building Relationships with Latino Youth

Date Posted: 6/11/2015

First UMC Pasadena is striving to be known as the church that loves kids. This year, they initiated a number of real “conversations” with Hispanic students in schools neighboring the church.
Exciting opportunities often begin over lunch. Early this year, Rev. John Stephenson and Rev. Emily Everett of First UMC Pasadena invited Vanessa Reyes, the principal from Miller Intermediate (located directly across the street from the church) to lunch. “Our main goal was to ask her how we could be better neighbors and partner in the good things that Miller was already doing on their campus,” Emily shares. “After throwing around several possibilities, she said that the biggest need was for conversation partners with the ESL students. Miller Intermediate has a student body that is 87% Hispanic and they also have almost 40 level one or two ESL students, meaning they have been in the country for less than two years.”
Bridging to the Community
The idea was to simply have volunteers go into the classroom and have conversations with the students. By practicing their English skills, students could become more comfortable with the language and have more opportunities to succeed as they continued through their education. “But our initiative was also about building relationships,” adds Emily. “Mrs. Reyes said it was really important for her students to get to know people who didn’t look like them. She also hoped this would help them learn how to build trust and understand differences. Since this was also our goal as a church, we were excited by how easy it was for the church to begin building relationships with the Latino community, seeing as that our mission field of Pasadena is now 73% Hispanic.”
Starting in March, about 15 volunteers began visiting the ESL (English/Second Language) classes and working with the students and ESL teacher, Martha De la Paz, every Tuesday. The school adopted the program known as RISE: Reassuring, Inspiring, and Supporting English Learners - a first of its kind in the Pasadena School District. Conversations have since centered on sharing diverse backgrounds and cultures, whether from Central, South or North America. Paula, a Columbian student, told a volunteer that she wanted to become a doctor. “Voy a ser la esperanza de mi país!”(I am going to be the hope of my country!) Max Kehlmeier, one of First UMC Pasadena’s volunteers, had this to say about the experience thus far, “When I first went to Miller I didn't know what to expect, but when I met with the kids, their excitement and joy was immediately contagious. Most of the students were ready to learn and so were we.” Adds Max, “Each group I work with has so many positive attributes and each group has their own way of wanting to learn. I find myself very excited about the next session and feel this will be a great influence on the students and the mentors as well. I could go on and on because this experience is so much more important than I originally imagined."
Not only have the volunteers spent time in the classroom, they also escorted the students on two field trips: a Dynamos soccer game and the Museum of Natural Science and the Butterfly Exhibit. Adds Emily, “Many of the kids had never been to the museum or the IMAX and it was quite the ordeal getting them back on the bus to head home! Although the school year is coming to a close, there are already discussions around how to expand and involve more people in the program next year. The excitement from the volunteers is as contagious as the students’ laughter. What a gift it is to be partnering with God in investing in the education of our youth and learning about the diversity with which God creates all of God’s children.”
For more information about the program, please contact Rev. Emily Everett at