Program Alumna and Affinity Staff: Angela’s Story
By Rachel Lopez
Holding hands, 8 year-old Angela and her 3 sisters quickly dart across the street and into the safety of Burton Elementary’s brick archway. Her long, dark pony tail swishes as she runs.
Wearing her favorite pair of converse sneakers Angela lugs her rolly backpack up the last few steps. She loves school. A little timid and shy, but she absolutely loves reading. Her favorite book is Junie B. Jones is a Graduation Girl. She wants to do well in school, make her parents proud and their sacrifices worth it.
Hard-working, strong, and supportive, Angela loves her parents. They emigrated from Mexico before she was born, in search of a better life and more opportunities. Her biggest wish is to spend more time with them. She doesn’t quite understand why they have to work so much.
Her parents leave for work each morning at 4am and get home after 7pm. They get home tired each day. As the second oldest, Angela takes care of her younger sisters – gets them ready for school, helps them with homework, and walks with them to and from school.
Her mom is always positive, despite even some of the most difficult times. She remembers one bitter-cold winter where they didn’t have heat. Angela and her sisters crawled in bed each night with their parents to keep warm. Her mom would nudge her dad and ask him to tell stories. They’d fall asleep laughing together.
Other days they didn’t have enough food. Angela would look forward to the the free lunches at school. She could see the pain in her mom’s eyes when she asked if there was anything to eat. Her mom always found a way to make it work. Angela remembers waking up the next morning to warm tortas and chorizo con huevo.
A few months into second grade she meets Wendy. She’s tall with dark blonde hair. She hasn’t met many people that look like Wendy. She brings her a pink Snapple juice. Even though she’s unsure why she needs a mentor she starts to enjoy hanging out with Wendy.
Wendy has this way about her, “You just know she’s listening, like really listening.” It makes Angela feel important and more confident. Wendy comes each week to see her.
She helps her with homework and they read lots of Junie B. Jones stories, but mostly they just talk. Wendy loves to hear what Angela thinks, what she wants to do when she grows up, and answers her millions of questions. To Angela, Wendy has all of the answers.
At the end of the school year Angela and her family move. It’s hard being the new girl. Sometimes Angela gets teased for her dirty uniform. She only has one and can’t wash it every day. She’s often lonely, but seeing Wendy is a bright spot. Her new school doesn’t have in-school mentoring so Wendy starts visiting Angela and her family at their house.
At first Angela is a little hesitant to share her mentor with her sisters, but she realizes how much fun they all have together. Wendy comes over after school. While her mom makes dinner the girls and Wendy watch movies, giggle, and talk.
She has never met anyone as cool as Wendy, “I wanted to be like her. She made me want to be there for someone like she was there for me. She made me feel smart and like I could do anything. When there wasn’t enough food or we we didn’t have electricity I would forget about it when I was with Wendy.”
Fifteen years later Wendy and Angela still keep in touch. Angela and her family moved 6-7 times and Wendy moved to Chicago when Angela was in 7th grade. However, that didn’t stop either of them. Wendy is still one of Angela’s biggest role models, “I really appreciate her. Sometimes I feel lost and she helps me focus.”
“When the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ came out Wendy messaged me and told me I should see it. She said that I would love it because of how much I enjoy math. I couldn’t believe she remembered.”
Angela still enters those brick archways each week at Burton Elementary, but now for a different reason. She is the Program Assistant for Affinity Mentoring and the entrance of the old building has been renovated into Affinity’s Mentor Center. “After Burton was renovated everything looks so different, everything but the archways. It’s exactly as I remember it. I remember being in this school and now I get to help students like me.”
This fall Angela will be continuing her degree at Grand Valley State University. She plans to become a social worker. She wants to help the Hispanic community and families like hers to feel safe, loved, and supported. Like Wendy did for her.
Hear Angela’s story in her own words …