New Placement, Same Needs

There has been a space of a few weeks since you have last heard from me. After returning to Denver from Christmas, the last few weeks have been full of transition and relearning. I transitioned out of my position at Sun Valley Youth Center in mid-January and was then placed a bit later at the Bridge Project. The Bridge Project was in major need of an Administrative Assistant and I was glad to help them out in that way. Data entry is now my specialty and lots of paperwork. But I will get to my day-to-day moments later.

First I would like to introduce you to the neighborhood I now find myself in and the wonderful people there. Westwood is—imagine this—on the west side of Denver neighborhoods. It is the same neighborhood where Tyler’s other nonprofit placement Revision is trying to address the fact that it is a major food desert—there are no grocery stores (except 7/11) for a 3 mile radius. There is much life and energy in this diverse neighborhood.  80% of the residents are Latino and 35% of those in the neighborhood were born in another country. As I walk to work each day I pass Vietnamese and Mexican restaurants, some of the most beautiful graffiti of lotus flowers and elephants of India, several shrines on the front porches of the homes, and even some gentrification. Unemployment in this neighborhood is double the Denver average and 35% of residents live below the poverty line. In 2013 Westwood was “rated second-most-vulnerable neighborhood in terms of being prepared to help children thrive.” It is a beautiful place and the people are slowly stealing my heart.

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A picture of some graffiti done by students in the area to display their cultural background.

The Bridge Project is an after school program that is run and funded by the University of Denver which has a branch housed in Westwood DHA building. In our few classrooms we keep watch on 75-85 students a night, leading groups for them like Zumba, science, literacy, and girl scouts. These participants, ranging from 5 years old to seniors in high school also have an opportunity to be tutored by university students while they are with us. With that many kiddos the place can get crazy at times, but our Director runs a tight ship and we have resources that really allow the kids to really enjoy their time and learn so much while they are with us.

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Some of our students and their tutors hard at work in our tutor room.

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She was very excited to show off her hat from our Dr. Seuss Day activities.

As for my life as an Administrative Assistant, I spend all my morning hours doing data entry and paperwork and sometimes going to meetings. Because of all the classes we offer and volunteers that come in, there is definitely a lot of paperwork, but I enjoy it and how it keeps the place afloat. I also adore my office buddy Diana. She grew up going to the Bridge Project in her neighborhood and is now using her education and the opportunities given to her by Bridge to give back to kiddos just like her.

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This amazing woman gives so much of her love and energy for our students. She is truly incredible!

Once our students come at 3:15 I run the front desk where the students sign in when they first get there and let them know the schedule of the day.  Keeping the tutors on schedule is also a part of my front desk job. I really enjoy getting to meet the tutors and volunteers each day, finding ways to encourage them and give them larger glances into their tutees’ lives.

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Some shenanigans happening at the front desk. They were impressed I knew what a selfie was. 

As I have waded through transition and newness and 75 different kids’ names, I have noticed moments of familiarity. Like muscle memory, I have conversations with students, watch certain behaviors, and deal with hard moments and realize that though my setting has changed and the students are different, I am experiencing the same things that I have been this whole year. There is still way too few resources for kids in lower income neighborhoods in terms of their schooling, their safety, their health, and with preparation for their future. An overwhelming number of families are impacted by immigration, relocation, and refugee laws, which strip them of everyday resources most of us are used to having. And the burdens the children carry. These kids have it rough because of where they live and where they go to school. By no fault of theirs, nor their parents most times, these children have been oppressed by the systemic injustices found in our cities and they must constantly march against that tide.

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Writing a letter to Obama about changes she would like to see in her neighborhood. This girl is gonna change the world!

This is the reality of where I am working and I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to learn from places like Sun Valley and The Bridge Project of how my own privilege plays into this and what we as the church are called to do about it. And I hope that as you read these many stories I share, that they encourage you to create space to listen to where God is nudging you toward.

Statistics of Westwood found at:

A ULI Advisory Services Panel. A ULI Advisory Services Panel Report. “Westwood Neighborhood: Denver, Colorado.” Urban Land Institute and The Colorado Health Foundation, May 5-10th, 2013. http://uli.org/wp-content/uploads/ULI-Documents/WestwoodPanelReport_finallo.pdf>.

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