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You Can Go Home Again

Desde La Base- Summer 2012

"IMPACTO is my house, my family, my friends, my place, my every day. And I'm never leaving."

 Right now, in just about every corner of this city, you’ll find high school seniors arriving at an important crossroads in their lives:  graduation.  But for the  seniors at  IMPACTO, graduation marks an especially pivotal moment.  Because in a community where  pressures like the presence of gangs and poverty loom large in a youth’s life, this program is their second home – a safe place where the support they receive from staff serves as a central guiding force in their young lives.  And leaving home can be stressful, no matter where you come from.


Senior Monse Conde, a program participant since the age of seven, states “IMPACTO is my house, my family, my friends, my place, my every day.  And I’m never leaving.”  Of course, Conde is graduating this year.  She will attend    California State University Los Angeles in the fall, but plans to incorporate  volunteering at IMPACTO into her new  schedule.  Making this choice came naturally to Conde, who says that the evolution of her role at IMPACTO has been years in the making.  As a long-time participant in the Summer Program, for example, she would happily arrive at 8 or 9 in the morning to help Elementary Program Coordinator Velvet Holguin prepare the day’s snacks, and then leave with the staff at 7 o’clock in the evening. “Now, I have a responsibility to set a good example for the younger kids,” she says.


According to IMPACTO Program Director Lucia Torres, staff also face an important responsibility at this time:  preparing graduating seniors for the realities of  college life.  And academic preparation is only one part of the equation.  Torres states “Everyone on the IMPACTO staff knows what it’s like to transfer from a school like one of our local schools to a large campus.  There’s a level of culture shock that occurs.  We don’t soften the picture we paint for our students; we give them advice on how to stay   on top of their deadlines and what   temptations to expect.”

IMPACTO also maintains an open door policy.   Torres notes that IMPACTO has a good track record for retaining staff for long stretches of time, and this is    comforting to graduating seniors because they know that they can always come back to visit and find the same   familiar faces --  those friends they have come to trust on their journey toward adulthood.  In a neighborhood where the high school dropout rate is approximately 69%, IMPACTO staff are also oftentimes the only college     graduates that seniors know, and the continued  mentorship they provide to students after they exit the program is invaluable.


In the coming years, providing mentorship to   IMPACTO students will also be on the agenda of graduating senior Vanessa Santos, who plans to   attend Citrus College in Glendora this coming Fall.  As an IMPACTO participant since the age of five, she states that the program has made her aware that there are    always open doors to be found – you just have to look.  “I will definitely come back to volunteer, and hopefully be a workshop speaker for the older kids.  I’d like to tell them my story and let them know that anything is possible.  I didn’t always have that growing up.”
Year after year, 100% of  IMPACTO’s seniors    graduate, and year after year these same  students return, either to support the program as volunteers or just to  reconnect with staff.  This dynamic even continues once past participants begin their post-college careers.  Perhaps Conde summed it up best when she relayed the following:  “On the first hiking trip we ever took, the older kids helped the younger kids climb from rock to rock.  It was a great team-building activity, but it also represents what IMPACTO is all about.”

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