Students aim for success at local clubhouses

Junior Jaynar de la Cruz spends every day after school at the clubhouse in Redwood City.

De la Cruz is a student and teen staff member at the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula (BGCP), a club that provides programming ranging from college-prep to cooking and gives students of any background a safe place to thrive.   

De la Cruz and approximately 20 other Sequoia students spend their afternoons at the BGCP clubhouse, either doing their homework, coaching younger students, working as teen staff or taking classes to improve extracurricular interests.

In January, senior Elisa Guizar and  Gabriela Vasquez were finalists for the Redwood City Clubhouse’s Youth of the Year award, an award that recognizes members who represent what BGCP is about. Finalists have the opportunity to share their story and gain skills for public speaking, writing and interview preparation.

“Youth of the year changed my life,” said Guizar, the winner for the Redwood City clubhouse. “It was a big honor having Redwood City behind me.”

Recently, de la Cruz and junior Betzaida Lopez attended the 49th Annual Keystone Conference in Dallas. From March 17-19, they and 2,500 other teens got the chance to tackle current issues facing teens and hear from a variety of speakers, including Yara Shahidi, who plays Zoey on ABC’s Black-ish.

“You are trying to make connections with people that have the same kind of programs as us,” Lopez said. “The [speakers] connected everything back to things that we know.”

 Lopez and de la Cruz are part of the Keystone Tigers, a leadership program in the Boys and Girls Club that helps the community through work such as planning events for younger kids and fundraising.

Th BGCP has three clubhouses, located in Menlo Park, Redwood City and East Palo Alto. Each clubhouse offers one-on-one tutoring, SAT prep, boxing, video production, DJing, 3-D printing and other programs.

“I joined in 5th grade, my mom said I should join because it could help me in ways she couldn’t” senior Vasquez said. “When I got to 8th grade I was still part of [BGCP] and throughout the years I’m still part of it.”

Juniors and seniors can be part of a program called College Bound, similar to the AVID program, which helps low-income or first-generation college students navigate the path to college. Starting in junior year, participant have SAT-prep once a week and are paired with mentors to help with college applications. Over the summer they start their applications and as seniors they will get help with all the elements of going to college.

“Being in the environment makes you want to do well in school  and your mind opens up to new things,” de la Cruz said. “They push you to do the work to go to a four-year college. Even if [someone] doesn’t want to go to college, they push you to finish high school.”

For teens that are making an effort to improve their grade and do well in school, the BCGP takes trips as recognition for their work.

“There’s no excuse for you to say I don’t think I can get into college,” Lopez said. There are tutors and people that are there for you.”

Students are also paired up with mentors, who are there as a resource for anything from help with financial aid to relationship problems.

“There are two mentors that I really look up to,” Vazquez said. “They always tell me ‘I believe in you, don’t let anyone crush your dreams, you should focus on yourself and what you want to achieve and take advantage of any opportunities that come ahead.”

Although the BCGP currently has programs serving students in grades K-12, starting in Fall 2016 they are becoming a teen center, solely for high school students.

“For me, the BGCP turns into your family. You become really close to whoever works there, you can tell them anything and be sure they won’t tell anyone,” de la Cruz said. “In the BGCP you build trust.”