Luis Fernando is a 13-year-old with a ready smile and maturity beyond his years. He attends the MEND Youth Services Program regularly after school, where he is one of the MEND “podcast kids”—five middle school children who produce their own podcast.
A student at M.I.T.@Vaughn Middle School in San Fernando, Luis says he loves science and wants to be a mechanical engineer. He has a computer at home, but no internet access and no printer. Many of his school assignments require research on the internet and the only way he can complete assignments is at MEND. Youth Services volunteers say he is an excellent student and very motivated.
Tutoring is at the heart of the Youth Services program at MEND.
The program, developed to provide homework help for low-income children in the community, also offers access to computers, printers and the internet—critical educational tools not available in the homes of many MEND families.
Field trips, guitar lessons and exercise classes are also offered, giving children opportunities they would not otherwise have. Relationships are also formed and role models quickly gained.
Andrea Lopez, Youth Services Coordinator, says the Youth Services program gives kids a chance to shine. “Many of our children are the first in their family to get a formal education, so they don’t have the academic support at home. There is also a technological gap because they don’t have the tools at home to complete assignments. We help bridge the gap with our tutor volunteers and access to computers.”
When asked what he would do if he couldn’t use the facilities at MEND he says, “That’s a very hard question.” Then he smiles.
Andrea, who was once a MEND volunteer teaching ESL herself, says there is always a need for tutors: “All we ask for is two hours a week to help a child like Luis with homework and make a difference in a child’s life.” Contact Andrea at 818 686 7319 or email@example.com
Ericka Gutierrez: A Better Prescription for Vision Care
Ericka Gutierrez came to MEND to volunteer as a welfare-to-work recipient. Having graduated from technical college as a medical assistant, she found she found the MEND Medical Clinic to be an ideal place to gain on the job experience and meet her volunteering requirements. After several weeks she realized that she qualified to be treated at MEND’s Eye Care Clinic and made her first appointment.
“I was born with a ‘lazy eye’ that was never properly treated,” Ericka explained.”For years I had glasses with one extremely thick, heavy lens that didn’t help my vision and caused terrible headaches. As an adult, I was too embarrassed to wear the glasses.”
In the MEND Eye Care Clinic, she learned that she didn’t need a thick lens at all. ”I received my new glasses and they were perfect from the start! I can wear them all the time. My prescription changes frequently–twice in seven months–but MEND optometrists keep an eye on me.” In addition, Ericka’s young son was examined and prescribed glasses in the clinic, an expense that she couldn’t afford.
Since MEND’s Eye Care Clinic is part of the Medical Clinic, Ericka works directly assisting other eye care patients and has witnessed the great need for eye care services.
“A few days ago I had a 35 year old patient that had never been to an eye clinic in his life. When the doctor put the prescription lenses in front of his eyes he was overwhelmed. He could not believe how clearly he could see the letters on the chart!”
As she gains valuable work experience for her new career, Ericka is finding fulfillment at MEND. “I help patients, my supervisors and my co-workers” she says. “I learn so much at MEND. Helping patients in need means so much to me.”
Please spread the word about MEND’s eye care services for low-income individuals and families.
Edith Roa: Blossoming in a New Life
Edith Roa came to America eight years ago with hope—and regret. In leaving her home country, she also left behind a daughter, Luz, and a son, Israel, in the care of her mother. She was not abandoning her children, however, but saving them and herself from an abusive husband and in-laws.
In her new country, Edith found work as a hairdresser at a salon. It was there that she met the man who would become her second husband. Together they had two daughters: Ellen, now 7, and Shalon, 4. You might think that the story ends here. She had a job, a home, and a family—a better life, to all appearances.
But instead, she was once again the victim of domestic violence.
The breaking point came last year when Edith’s husband threatened her with a knife. Summoning all her courage, she gathered her children and fled with them to a residential motel. After several months, her situation was dire. She was struggling to pay rent and her husband would not help her support the children.
Then Edith met with a social worker through a California state program that provides cash aid in exchange for work. She finally chose to disclose that she had been the victim of domestic violence. With that secret bared, her life was about to move forward in ways she never imagined.
The social worker advised Edith to move into a shelter with her daughters and helped her start the divorce process and apply for child support. She also helped Edith apply for a U-Visa, granted to victims of domestic violence.
While at the shelter and enrolled in a domestic violence class, Edith heard about MEND and began a work assignment there. As she recalls, “MEND was one of the biggest stepping stones lifting me out of my situation and giving my life purpose. I learned I was supposed to be here. MEND put me on the right path.”
Every day Edith would take her children to two different schools, then come to work at the reception area of MEND’s dental clinic. In the afternoon she would go to MEND’s Education and Training Center for an ESL class. She later transferred to work in MEND’s intake department, where she volunteers weekly to advise and connect others with the services they need, learning skills she hopes to some day use as a social worker.
MEND provided Edith’s family with clothing from its clothing department and food from its emergency food bank. They have benefitted as well from MEND’s medical clinic. These and other resources have kept Edith moving towards her goal of doing better in life.
Late last year, the agency that provided shelter for Edith and her daughters subsidized their move into a townhome in Pacoima, where both girls are now attending school. She is determined that one day she will provide everything for her daughters and herself, and become completely self-reliant.
Edith sees a message in her experience for others who may be homeless or disadvantaged. “There is help,” she says. “You must be willing to take advantage of the opportunities you are offered by people who are there to help you.”
Edith Roa took the risk of accepting help and revealing the painful details of her former life. Since that moment, she has blossomed. Every day, she continues to grow into the new life she loves.
Stars Shine for Adopted Family
When Anahi Reyes and her husband Marcos learned they and their three young children had been chosen as one of MEND’s adopted families, it was a Christmas wish come true.
For Marcos, a day laborer in a depressed economy, supporting his family has been a challenge. At times they have made ends meet with food from MEND’s Emergency Food Bank and clothing from its Clothing Center.
Living below the poverty line is difficult for any family, but they never imagined their family would be facing a catastrophic illness at the same time.
Until last April, two-year-old Anthony was full of energy. Then suddenly he was unable to walk, crying constantly, and in terrible pain. Within the span of two months Anahi took her son to a clinic and three hospitals, but no one could diagnose the cause of his unrelenting pain and rapidly deteriorating health.
Finally, Anthony was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery. During his 10-day hospital stay, the family lived in their van outside the hospital. One parent would stay with him at night, while the other stayed in the van with their two other children. They had no money to purchase meals, so they brought food from home.
Anthony’s surgery was successful. He received rehabilitation to learn to walk again and is still on chemotherapy. When MEND volunteers visited their home this December, he ran around playing with his little sister the entire time.
With his big mischievous smile and twinkling eyes, he looked as healthy as ever. The only clue he had ever been ill was the six-inch scar next to his spine.
Anahi and Marcos are relieved to see Anthony healthy again and grateful for MEND’s help during their crisis. Now, through MEND’s Adopt-a-Family-for-Christmas Program, their family will be able to celebrate with toys for their children, much-needed household items, and a wonderful holiday meal.
The Reyes family is one of many families adopted by generous MEND donors this Christmas. Thank you to all of MEND’s Stars and Adopt-a-Family participants who make dreams come true for so many in our community.
Finding New Vision for the Future
Fatima de Leon worked at a factory on the graveyard shift, stamping tiny expiration dates in perfect alignment on food packaging. When she began her job, she pushed herself to produce more and more, and to exceed what was expected of her.
Although Fatima’s performance was outstanding, it had unexpected consequences. Five months into the job, she began having vision problems related to her work. Then, after working a year and a half, there was a slow down at the factory and she was laid off. Soon thereafter her husband lost his job as well.
Both of them worked odd jobs to support their family, but struggled to get by. Fatima knew of MEND through friends but never thought she would need its services.
But after hearing repeatedly about MEND’s efficient and friendly staff, Fatima came to MEND for food from the Emergency Food Bank. She then learned of the other services MEND offers. At the Eye Care Clinic, she was diagnosed with early signs of glaucoma and given prescription eyeglasses that allow her to read.
Later, when her husband had a bad toothache, he went to a private dental office and was told it would cost $700 to take care of it. Fatima and her husband walked over six miles to MEND’s Dental Clinic. For a small donation, his tooth was fixed and then they walked home.
Despite her challenging situation, Fatima never gave up, and has kept moving forward. She wanted to attend school while she was working and could not. Now, through one of the most valuable services MEND has to offer, she can.
Four days a week, Fatima attends the English as a Second Language class at MEND’s Education and Training Center (ETC). After she completes her ESL studies, she hopes to complete a training program offered by the city and become certified as a private housekeeper, cook, or baker. And lately, Fatima’s husband has been working as a day laborer and has been fortunate to have steady work.
Angie Gonzalez, Associate Director at the ETC, marvels at what a “spark plug” Fatima is. “She generates a positive attitude for other students around her. If someone is struggling, she reminds them how lucky they are.”
Mayra Gutierrez, her ESL teacher at the ETC, says, “Fatima reads very well. She is an enthusiastic student, she is very light-hearted, and she loves to joke with her classmates.”
Fatima’s eyesight may have weakened, but her vision for the future has not dimmed. She has whole-heartedly immersed herself in the opportunity MEND offers for learning in the company of others who are striving to build their own pathways to self-reliance.
Photo: Fatima de Leon (left) with Mayra Gutierrez, MEND Student Intern and ESL Instructor