Of the Community, By the Community,
For the Community
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Each student mentor is paired with a youth from the CIS
program and the two meet once a week. The UCLA students, in addition
to providing assistance with schoolwork, serve as role models for
youth who often have no positive adult influences in their lives.
A five-point philosophy is the guiding force of the program. The
first point states that all children deserve a personal one-on-one
relationship with a caring adult who, in Arias' words, is "irrationally
committed to a child's well-being — 'irrational' because most
rational adults would run the other way." Arias affirms that
the UCLA students more than fulfill this role.
The second and third points involve creating a safe place to learn
and grow, and ensuring a healthy future. Most of the work for the
UCLA students involves generating trust and credibility among the
youth. Once this foundation is established, the youth are more receptive
to advice, hence more likely to improve.
No program would be complete without an element of giving back
to the community — the fourth point. Plenty of opportunities
to give back are afforded the youth, as illustrated by the story
of a young man, a hardened gang member, who went through the program
and eventually left the street life. Now he returns to the center
regularly to counsel others, telling his often-skeptical listeners,
"I know what you are thinking because I was in your shoes once."
Marketable skills for a job or career are critical, as stated
in the final point. The tutor/mentor program prepares youth to participate
in internship programs offered through CIS. Many of the internships
have resulted in permanent positions for the participants.
"Programs don't change kids, relationships do," says
Arias. "The UCLA students come here and often wonder if they'll
be able to transform the kids, because they come from such different
backgrounds. But ultimately, the relationship transcends."
— Pamela Corante