Elevating hope: Program offers support to Phoenix’s struggling students | Cronkite News
Targeting individual students, Elevate Phoenix provides curriculum and support to help students who are at risk of dropping out of school.
Ruby entered our Peer Leadership class as a junior. She had no idea what the class was about and was initially disengaged. Eventually she let us know she was struggling with Child Protective Services due to domestic violence at home. Her father tried to kill her mother in front of the kids, and when she stepped in to stop him, he attacked her as well.
She always wondered why her mom would stay with such an abusive dad, who originally wanted to abort her. Ruby grew up feeling like she never had a dad and was bullied all through school. In high school, she was angry, distant and unmotivated. Ruby was reluctant to join Elevate, but her life has been transformed since that day. Through the encouragement, love and support of her teacher/mentors, she completed our college prep program and is currently enrolled in Phoenix College studying criminal justice. As a mentor now herself, Rubyexperienced a student who opened up to her about what is happening at home, and felt such a strong sense of dejavú.
Ruby immediately showed her the same love and support that Ruby’s mentors showered her with. She says she’s the person she is today because her mentors never gave up like she thought they would. Ruby couldn’t be happier today because life is now filled with forgiveness and joy.
Ricardo was living in a group home, after he was found homeless, sleeping at bus stops. That’s how he came to Elevate Phoenix. He shares why it’s so important for him to be successful, after all the obstacles he’s had to overcome. “At first I was living with my older sister and her family because my mom had to move back to Mexico right after 8th grade. Things were great until my sister’s husband started using drugs.
The drugs made him a different person. I tried to stay out of it until he tried to hit my sister, and I was not going to stand for that. We physically fought 3 times, all because I was trying to protect my sister.” Ricardo’s brother-in-law kicked him out and that’s when he started living on the streets with no shoes, only a few clothes on his back and some school supplies. All alone in the world … a statistic .. 6 months living on the streets. “Come to think about it, I don’t even know how I made it through my sophomore year. Child Protective Services found Ricardo and placed him in a group home. “It was after I was put in the Elevate Phoenix class that I found my family that loved me unconditionally! I know I will prove everyone wrong who didn’t believe in me.
I know that only the strong survive. I know that I am strong and that I will have a great future. I will be successful in school, I will make it in a career that helps other young people who were in trouble like me, and I will be a husband and father that will love to the fullest. I will never give up on them even when it’s hard.” It was Elevate Phoenix that stepped in and changed the course of Ricardo’s life. “Elevate Phoenix has significantly influenced my life by believing in me and showing me that I am loved. They were teachers who just simply took the time to care and were willing to push me to let them into my life. I wish I would have had this program when I was younger. I know that I can make a change in other young people’s lives the way my mentors made a difference in me. I know that they will be there for a long time and I plan on giving back the same way.”
Ricardo is attending college and dreams of having his own family one day. “Most of all, I want to use everything in my power to help youth at risk. I want to go to a place where no one in my family has ever gone before. My story is the reason why I’m so motivated and so hungry for success in my future!!”
Perla was a sophomore when she started with Elevate Phoenix. She was a strong young lady who strived academically despite her home life. When Perla was just 6 years old, her mother died in a car accident and her father gave up his parental rights to her grandparents. Finding Elevate Phoenix was just the support she needed.
One night at midnight she frantically called her mentor, unsure of what to do. Her uncle had been deported and her aunt began neglecting her five young children. She called in tears after learning that her baby cousin passed away from pneumonia which was never taken care of. Child Protective Services (CPS) came and took all four of her remaining cousins. Working together, we petitioned CPS to place her cousins in her grandparent’s home. This made nine people living in a very small house with one bathroom. Elevate banned together, supplied beds, smoke detectors and many other items that were needed. Since it was the Christmas season, Elevate played Santa by providing school clothes and supplies, gift cards and food. Perla went to school and worked to help her grandparents as much as possible, all while maintaining honor roll. She said Elevate Phoenix inspired her to push through and go to college so she can be a teacher and help others. She says she could not have gotten through it all without the help of our program!
Olga was put into our Elevate class her junior year of high school. Prior to joining, she felt alone even when people were around. She had no hope for her education, let alone her future. She fell into a deep depression with suicidal thoughts that led her down a really dark path.
Olga says it’s because of Elevate and her relationship with her mentor that she finally felt like she was where she belonged and where she could be herself. At Elevate, she started making friends who encouraged more positivity. Olga went from not wanting to come to school to actually looking forward to being in our Elevate class. She’s now getting ready to graduate from high school and setting herself up for college. She is thankful for everything that Elevate has offered her and the joy it has brought to her heart.
Victor began his journey with us in 7th grade when our high school students came into the middle school to share their life lessons. At the time, he was struggling with his home life. As he and his family are all undocumented, he felt school was pointless since there was no hope at the end of it all. He was difficult in school, angry and felt helpless … but all the while screaming out internally for help.
Victor found his outlet in athletics. Playing sports is where he feels most himself. Through Elevate, he has learned to address his issues at home and not let them keep him from succeeding. In an impromptu moment, one of Victor’s elementary teachers recognized him publicly. With tears in his eyes, the teacher commented that Victor is a different kid than he knew in grade school. He attributed Victor’s growth to Elevate and said he was so inspired by the man he is today, giving back to kids just like himself. Victor recently attended an intensive Immigrant Scholarship Hustle event, a scholarship application program for immigrant students in Arizona. He now feels hope and support because of Elevate and, although it may be harder because of his status, Victor believes good will come his way and he is preparing himself for that opportunity by becoming the best leader he can be.
Luke is a sophomore at Camelback High School, currently in his second year atElevate Phoenix, teaching and mentoring 5th graders. Luke’s story with us started last year when he came into the freshman class. He started the year off strong, making friends, bringing a positive and contagious energy and being respectful to teachers and his peers. All of that positivity changed during the second semester when Luke was removed from his parents’ home due to neglect.
Luke did not agree with the move and struggled at his uncle’s house. He quickly began shutting down, affecting every part of his life and his relationships. His Elevate teacher/mentor quickly noticed the change and met with him. Luke unloaded his emotions while his teacher/mentor listened, reassured him and offered insight. After a few angry outbursts, arguments and a couple of punched walls in his new home, Luke decided to look at what he actually could control. His attitude became his focus, he began to attend more Elevate events to surround himself in a positive environment. He also joined JROTC to give him structure and discipline and to help keep his anger in check.
At any time, Luke knows he can quickly come to his teacher/mentor for accountability and support. Today, he’s a positive role model and an amazing mentor for his elementary school students.
Krystal was quiet, shy and unsure of herself when she first entered our Elevate Phoenix class three years ago. As she slowly began to open up and share her story, we learned she came from an unstable home with separated parents, a little brother with disabilities and a twin she is always compared to. She felt unworthy, like she could walk into a room and never be seen.
That’s when Elevate stepped in to remind her of her value and purpose and our belief in her bright future. Krystal’s mentor poured time and energy into her and as time went by, we watched her bloom, develop confidence and step out of the shell she had learned to hide in so well. She began to talk to others, smile, laugh and share her quirky personality that she would never show before. Now, she has ventured out of the broken world she was surrounded by and attends Northern Arizona University. Her goal is to become a speech specialist, in part because of her brother’s disability, and she wants to help others like she helps her brother. Krystal has grown into a beautiful young woman with goals, a passion for life and the confidence to be herself.
Kaila is a senior at Cesar Chavez. She has 9 siblings and will be the first one in her family to go to college. But her road there wasn’t always easy. Kaila was bullied in elementary school and by the time she was in 7th grade, she was literally fighting everyone. She refused to participate in our junior high program.
A few years later, her brother took our class and this peaked Kaila’s interest in joining. She started with Elevate as a junior and is now a senior with us. Elevate helped her build life skills like communication, responsibility, patience and an understanding of how to resolve conflict productively and not through fighting. Kaila has made significant life changes and is today one of our top leaders. She helps run our ‘Real Talk’ program which is a student led group that starts a conversation for anyone to come and engage in real topics like suicide, bullying and others.
Jeremiah came to Elevate Phoenix as a last ditch effort of his counselors at Camelback High School. He suffered from several conditions, received numerousspecial education services in school and had no true motivation in life. During oneclass period, the assignment was to make a picture of what his life would look like in 10 years.
As the assignments were turned in, we asked Jeremiah why he didn’t finish his? We wanted to make sure he understood the assignment because all he turned in was aframe with a black piece of construction paper in it. Jeremiah looked his mentors and said his frame represented exactly what his life would looks like in 10 years. He didn’t care what would happen then because he simply did not see a future for himself. We immediately began meeting with his counselors and his mother, who had just been released from being incarcerated. After spending time in Elevate, Jeremiah began seeing what was possible in his future, but is still working hard at it each and every day. For that reason, we believe it is imperative to have Elevate in every school so we can help more students like Jeremiah. We commit to be there with them, to have hope for them, until they find the strength to have that hope for themselves.
Meet Angie who is no stranger to living in shelters with her mom and younger siblings.She is an excellent student who has gone through some very hard times, but is so excited about the future after receiving a scholarship to go to college. Angie came to Elevate the way many of our youth do. She started dating a new guy and immediately began missing a lot of school and losing much of her motivation.
Her relationship turned VERY physical, with emotional and verbal abuse. Angie’s mother saw her pain, but didn’t know how to break the cycle as it was exactly the same experienceshe went through. When Angie turned 18, she moved out of the shelter and in with her boyfriend, and that’s when things got even more scary. He forced her to drop out of our program and she became like a prisoner in her own home. Her Elevate mentor spent countless hours with her, sharing how valuable she was and reminding her of all the lessons she learned in Elevate. She finally found the courage to leave.
Angie and her mentor packed up as much as they could fit into her mentor’s car and never turned back. Elevate helped buy her a ticket to go live with family out of state. Today, she’s going to nursing school and feels like she was saved because of Elevate Phoenix.
My name is Maria and my parents are from Sonora, Mexico. They married and had five kids. My twin brother and I are the babies. When we turned two, my mother had enough of my dad’s alcoholism and physical abuse. She took all five of us and fled to Arizona. She struggled to raise us on one income and often worked many jobs to make ends meet. When I began junior high, she met a new man and married him. He helps her financially and is kind to us.
From her perspective, he gave her hope. From our perspective, he took our mom from us emotionally. She seems to be wrapped up in her own world with him. When that emotional shift happened, I became the mom. I came into Elevate Phoenix my freshmen year. At the time I was struggling with depression, overworking myself and dealing with family issues. On top of that, I was still taking care of my siblings because my mother wasn’t there for us emotionally. One of the counselors was my older sister’s mentor and I knew I could trust her. When I started to open up, I felt supported and loved. She helped me get out of my shell.
I learned many life skills, not only from her, but also from the class. I know I will be using these skills for the rest of my life. I learned that it is okay to rely on trusted people and that I am as important as others; so I should reach out for help and not just give it. My mentor is also helping me get to college.
Luis started with Elevate Phoenix as a sophomore. At the beginning of the year he shared that he had a short life expectancy which made everyone wonder what that meant. Luis was not yet ready to share that with anyone. After being in our program, hanging out and building a friendship, the subject came up again. Luis finally felt open and confident enough to talk about a rare kidney disease that likely will take his life before he turns 40. But Luis’ health alone has not been his only opposition.
His family struggles with the typical woes that are no stranger to urban kids. They live below the poverty line and struggle to keep food on the table. But Luis’ biggest source of stress stems from something in his past that he deeply regrets, cannot let go of or forgive himself for. For a long time he was not willing to share the dark secret that has been eating away at him. He was just set on believing that he was not a good person.
One day, we talked about what it would mean to him if he were to decide to make a change and focus on making his life better. His first step would be to replaces every negative thought, feeling or word with positive ones. He also started placing ten ‘Post It Notes’ in his room every day that speak to who he is and who he wants to become. These notes might say “I am a leader”, “I make good choices” or “I am loyal”.
He is also working on going out of his way to encourage a friend or someone one around him to make better choices (in a way he is striving to do). Luis is working to rewire his thought process, find a more positive self-image and make positive choices, in turneventually motivating, encouraging and influencing his friends and family to do the same. He is a lot happier and more engaged than ever and it is every evident that Luis has taken this commitment and challenge to heart.
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