Something strange is afoot—the shoe is on the other foot—and other feet idioms to describe the unusual situation where I, the usually invisible blog writer, am interviewing myself!

I am Carmen Thong, one of the volunteers whose task it is to attend Hope Horizon events, interview someone, and write a short blog post about it. Of course, since COVID, there was less of the attending, and more of the direct interviewing conducted over phone or Zoom.

In the interview process, I try to simulate a normal conversation where I meet someone for a coffee and I am really invested to get to know them more. I ask follow up questions so that we can dig deeper into their stories. At the end of the process, I write up a narrative that encapsulates, as best as possible, the spirit of what they said. In all of this simulation, I find that every conversation I have does end up getting me invested in the person’s joys, struggles, hopes, and goals.

Being able to connect with people I haven’t met before in this deep way was an unexpected and wonderful experience. I wasn’t sure before I started if I would be adequate for the task. This is because I have just moved to Stanford University from Malaysia to start my PhD in English (on Postcolonial Studies). I was entering not just a new locale—which would already be a different enough context—but a new country and a new community (one beyond the academic bubble). I was concerned that because of this, I might not be able to connect with people well and to represent their voices in the best way. But my interviewing experience has shown me that with an open heart from both sides and listening ears, two strangers can meet for the first time, talk for an hour, and come out of it feeling affirmed, inspired, and encouraged. That is certainly what I felt from hearing the stories of many of the staff, volunteers and parents at Hope Horizon. The same spirit for hope and change in community moves us all, and might I even say, the same Holy Spirit.

I was particularly struck by the generosity of one mum I was interviewing over the phone, which was happening whilst she was also doing her many chores. Her frankness in sharing about the struggles she and her family faced during COVID, and how she was thankful for the help she received from her community and Hope Horizon particularly, made me feel so much optimism and hope for what an organization like Hope Horizon can do.

Hope is really and truly my largest takeaway so far from my time volunteering. I value this so much because, in an academic context, I think and talk about large scale concepts like capitalism, colonialism, and racism.

At Knight Hennessy, a scholarship program I am a part of where I met Sarahi (who referred me to Hope Horizon), we talk about systemic and global problems all the time. We are always encouraged to measure ourselves up to the task—which is an intimidating prospect because these systemic problems always seem so abstract, inevitable, and insurmountable.

Then, I meet the folks at Hope Horizon. I see volunteers investing weeks, months, and often, years, into a local community where they see real needs and decide to put in real help. I hear about kids and parents whose sense of self and ability to dream is built up by an organization who not only tells them they can do it, it also helps them to do it. I interview staff who were once kids in the Hope Horizon program, volunteers who have volunteered so long there they might as well be staff, and kids who want to volunteer when they’re older.

This is long term, community grounded, multi-generational work that has influenced so many lives, and continues to shine a light on the path ahead. Knowing Hope Horizon is out there doing the Lord’s work, and many other Hope Horizons elsewhere, makes the insurmountable global problems seem smaller.

2 views0 comments

Updated: Aug 26

Fall programs have started and Hope Horizon East Palo Alto is excited to welcome back all students! As programs launch, we’d like to share a few parent perspectives that encompass our holistic approach and the ways our students and families have experienced God’s love at Hope Horizon EPA.

“Anything that Hope Horizon needs, you can count on me. They have provided my daughter with so many great experiences; that is why I am always willing to help.”
Maggie, Hope Horizon East Palo Alto parent

Maggie is a Hope Horizon East Palo Alto parent and her daughter, Sofia, has been part of Hope Horizon EPA for four years. Sofia joined the high school program in her sophomore year of high school. During this time, both Sofia and Maggie had been going through a rough chapter in their lives. At first Sofia tried out the program as she was new to the area and wanted to make friends.

“She would ask God a lot for answers to why it was that she was going through what she was. That day the high school students had an activity. In the activity the students were given a scripture and then asked to reflect upon it. Her scripture read, ‘I may not be your biological father, but I am your celestial father.’” This made Sofia feel heard as she took it as a sign from God and answer to her prayers.

“She came to me and said, ‘Wow mom this is like a sign,’ and I said of course it is. God is real and he is here with you.”

Sofia felt that she had found a place she really connected with. She insisted on coming to the spiritual programs. She enjoyed her experience so much that she continued as one of our classroom leaders during Camp Hope Horizon, where she was able to invest in younger students, give back to her community and gaining job skills. As a member of the summer staff, she demonstrated leadership and empathy as she connected with her students.

Sofia is now entering her sophomore year at UC Berkely where she is studying psychology in hopes of going into a pediatric medicine career. She is also one of our scholarship recipients. Please keep Sofia in your prayers as she pursues her education and continues to seek Jesus in her life.

“This past year my children were offered free after-school and summer programs. But my kids insisted that I bring them back to Hope Horizon. At the time I had not been working full-time and my husband had been out of work for a month. It was hard to pay but Waniya [Assistant Director, Academic Programs] helped me apply for a scholarship, which then made it possible to have my kids attend. My kids pleaded, ‘please don’t take us out of Hope Horizon.’”
Alicia, Hope Horizon EPA parent

Alicia and her family have been part of Hope Horizon EPA for three years and we also had the opportunity of having her serve as our parent liaison this past summer. Both of her children happily attended the start of fall programs this week.

As much as they enjoy attending our programs, we also enjoy having them as well. All our students bring such a positive and bright light into our program. We appreciate every single one of them and the uniqueness that they bring to our campus.

“My son loves how Jon [Middle School Spiritual Program Manager] is. He understands the middle schoolers. He even tells me, ‘With him I feel good and relaxed when I am in his class.’ All the kids listen to him, they love him.”

Last year, Alcia’s mother passed away. It was a loss that was difficult for her family.

“My mom (my daughter's grandmother) passed away last year and being part of Hope Horizon helped her feel closer to her because her grandmother was an active member of the Catholic Church. She specifically prayed a lot to the Virgin Mary. My daughter was able to find closure and a way to feel closer to her grandmother as she joined the spiritual program. She also began to pray more consistently herself.”

Alicia‘s children found comfort and a way to be filled with peace in Hope Horizon spiritual programs. Her children were also able to benefit from the academic support.

“Whenever I couldn’t help my son with his math homework, he would always tell me that he could take it with him, and he would be helped at Hope Horizon. My daughter had a bit of trouble with writing as she went to dual immersion school and even though she loves coming to program, Hope Horizon didn’t have many bilingual staff so it was hard for her to get help with her homework.”

We thank God that we have dedicated staff and volunteers to offer the math help that her son needed. The needs of our students and families evolve over time, and we strive to listen to our community and actively respond when possible. This fall, we are also blessed to bring on bilingual staff. Please pray for us as we continue to grow our Hope Horizon family and expand the resources we have to offer. It is amazing to see the ways God is at work in the lives of our students and we invite you to be part of bringing hope and a future by volunteering, praying or making a financial donation.

40 views0 comments

“My kids were shy and didn’t like to ask questions or interact with others. Now they like to socialize and have made more friends. They are more open, less shy. Which is good because they need to socialize. They are the future. They are the leaders,” says Hope Horizon East Palo Alto (EPA) parent, Lucia.

After-school and enrichment programs are sometimes thought of as a place where a student gets their homework done or learns something new in order to keep them busy while parents work. Often the idea of it seems bland, but to a community like East Palo Alto and parents like Lucia, Hope Horizon EPA represents much more.

Lucia is a mother of three and has been part of the East Palo Alto community for 13 years. Her family first started at Hope Horizon through Vacation Bible School about five years ago. At Vacation Bible School her children learned lessons about God and the Bible through interactive learning like games and singing.

“It was a wholesome experience. I got to see my kids be a part of something spiritual that also got them to be more social. The program would get together for dinner and I would see every one of my kids' peers congregate with each other.”

Lucia wanted to show her appreciation and give back, so she offered to help prepare dinner for the students in the program. “Everyone was accepting and welcoming, so I wanted to pay it forward by helping make dinner. I also saw the positive impact it had on my kids.” After a long day of arranging flowers, Lucia would cook dinner for the students at Hope Horizon; she would usually make rice or spaghetti, but the dish would depend on what was planned and how many people were expected to eat.

After her children participated in Vacation Bible School, she was looking for an after-school program. During the school year, Hope Horizon offers a variety of programs, including spiritual and academic enrichment programs. The academic programs cater to the students’ individual needs and offer supplemental instruction in writing, reading, math, and other subjects. Spiritual programs provide a safe space for students to learn about God and his love for them. All programs provide opportunities for the students to develop social-emotional skills through interactions and mentorship.

Lucia witnessed first-hand the impact the program had on her oldest child, as they moved up a whole letter grade. “They help the students a lot. Especially the volunteers, they help with reading and math. The volunteers have patience and help the students progress in their academics. They helped my oldest son; he had a C in math and then ended up with a B after some help from the volunteers. It is also a place where they explain what it is to be a good person and overall be nice to everyone.” She also saw how her children developed in the social-emotional aspects as well.

“I only finished middle school so I can only help my kids so much. It's also hard, it is stressful and difficult to be patient when trying to help your kid. Math is also different here than it was back home.”

Having a safe learning environment like Hope Horizon is a crucial piece of support as some parents in the community did not accomplish a high level of education, limiting the amount of help, experience, and guidance that the parent can provide to their student. According to the Census Bureau’s 2021 data, only 23.8 percent of the community have received their bachelor's degree or higher.

Programs like Hope Horizon EPA are driven to meet the needs of students in the community. Those three to four hours after school are filled with opportunities and open doors. In a community like East Palo Alto where a good portion of the parents work extensive hours or work multiple jobs to make ends meet, Hope Horizon East Palo Alto offers a safe space where parents like Lucia can trust their students to be in a safe learning environment where they are provided with lessons, tools, and positive guidance.

As summer and Camp Hope Horizon comes to an end, join us praying as our students as they prepare to transition to the school year:

Lord, we pray that our students made friendships and memories that they will carry with them after camp. We pray that the skills they gained would help them transition into the next school year well. We pray that their parents are able to see the ways their children have grown. We also ask, Lord, that you keep us all safe as we come together to celebrate the end of camp. We thank you for your blessings and for the opportunity to serve youth in in our community. Lord, we also ask you to look over our supporters as they partner in our efforts and mission. We are grateful for you love and provision. Amen.

19 views0 comments