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Rachel, like many parents (especially during the pandemic), is a skilled multitasker. During the interview for this write-up, she was also simultaneously doing chores and collecting a batch of cupcakes. That said, Rachel was still fully engaged in telling her story, her family’s story and her experience with BCM.

She was born in Hawaii, and spent her schooling years in the US. As a child, she recalls her family thinking very highly of education. Rachel particularly treasured it for herself, but was raised in an environment where it wasn’t as easily accessible. More practical matters often took precedence. In a family of nine children, it was also difficult to chart her own path. Now that she has her own family of six children, her experience growing up strongly informs her own philosophy as a mother:

“I’m juggling a 100 things at once, FOR SURE. I don’t know how I do it with all the kids, I just feel like… it’s a mother’s instinct, I don’t want my kids to ever feel neglected. I don’t want them to ever say, ‘Oh ma, I never got that when I was young.’ I don’t blame my parents for anything; we had nothing and my parents worked every day. But it’s important to me now to give them every opportunity because I want to get them to a better place. I missed out on college, and I want them to go experience it.”

When it comes to BCM, Rachel’s children also take after her ability to multitask. Rachel is encouraged by her children’s ability to benefit from BCM’s tutors and programs despite the pandemic, and despite the technological issues they’ve experienced at home during the early days of lockdown. Rachel spoke particularly of her second grader, who sometimes attends multiple BCM events in one day.

“She’s shy, but when she had Zoom conversations with her tutor… the way she presented herself, she spoke so well with her tutor and she’s only a second grader! I’m struck by how comfortable she was with her tutors. She listens to what she’s told, she hears, and she repeats."

Most of the time, her kids say, “Mama, I’ll just do one.” But her second grader sometimes has one Zoom call after another with BCM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Rachel told her, “I don’t want you to be frustrated by doing so much. But she’s fine! They love BCM and I enjoy seeing what the tutors have done with the children. Which is why I teach my children to be respectful; I do not tolerate disrespecting teachers.”

Besides taking advantage of the tutoring programs at BCM to help her four children improve in their academic work (some have earned merit awards since), her children also enjoy going to BCM to take advantage of the good snacks, and to have fun. Living in lockdown within a house of six children and four adults has been challenging, and Rachel values being able to use the outdoor play area at BCM, including the walking path, and go on bike rides (with the bikes that some folks at BCM were able to help Rachel acquire). Rachel tries to get them out as much as possible, rather than staying indoors to watch TV.

When asked if she sees God at work in BCM, Rachel expresses yet another emphatic FOR SURE.

“He’s not just there, he’s everywhere! We’re Catholic, and I came from a very strong religious background. My husband, too. There are times when I feel so bad that I don’t actively act as a Catholic, but I sit back and I see it at BCM. They’re showing us that God is there. Having them at BCM is a beautiful thing. I’m thinking about everything BCM has given me and it’s all from Him. I have nothing to offer, I wish I can give back in ways like money for everything BCM has done for me. I wish there were more such opportunities out there, I wish I had you guys when I was younger. God is shining his light on everyone there at BCM and helping every single family.”

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"I'm distracted at home, especially with other family members being loud when I’m trying to do school. I would like to go back in person; I don’t play sports anymore and I miss playing soccer and basketball. Now I stay at home watching YouTube and playing video games.”

“Going to school online was very hard for me, especially because of my four-year-old twin brothers; they scream a lot and that makes it hard to focus. I started having missing assignments, first one, and then it became whole bunch.”

Two middle school students shared this glimpse of what school has been like this past year.

“Missing assignments, turning in and keeping up with work has been one of the biggest struggles we’ve seen with students this year. One of our students was missing 170 assignments when they came to us. Learning to navigate middle school and manage multiple classes has been a struggle for our sixth grade students this year. The transition from fifth grade to middle school is already big, and now they’re having to do all that online, learning how to keep up with work, stay organized, submit assignments on time, communicate with teachers, navigate the internet and lots of new technology. It’s a lot,” comments Waniya, BCM’s teen academic program manager.

Enter Academic Coaching for Success (ACS). Thanks to the support of ACS and the perseverance of the student mentioned above, those 170 missing assignments are ALL turned in!

"I’m usually the first one there. We get our temperature checked, sanitize and set up our laptop. I start doing homework or missing work and Keyla is available to help if I need it. She checks to make sure we’re done with our homework and lets us know if we have missing work.” A typical afternoon at ACS, which runs Monday through Thursday from 3:30-6:30pm, always starts with a mask and temperature check and plenty of sanitizer. Keyla, the classroom leader, is constantly checking the students’ online accounts to monitor grades, missing assignments and homework. While at ACS, students work on homework, complete missing assignments, meet with a tutor and keep their planners updated. At 5pm they have a recess and snack break, followed by extra support or academic games.

Keyla, the ACS classroom leader, became connected with BCM through JobTrain, a local community partner. They gave her several options for job placement, and BCM stood out to her because it involved working with kids. “I enjoy spending time with my niece, so I went ahead and interviewed with BCM and got the job!” She is pleased to share that the students' grades are going up and they are getting better at turning in their work.

“We’ve also been teaching them how to use a planner and manage their time better. Many of them like to do math now because of the positive influence and support of their math tutors, and they even want to play math games once they’re done with their work!”

Keyla, a local college student and member of the EPA community, has also been struck by the responsibility of being a role model and realizing how much of a positive effect she can have on the lives of young people.

Each ACS student is paired with a remote tutor, meeting virtually for 45 minutes while they are at BCM. Based on areas of identified need, most students focus on math with their tutor, through a combination of homework and a workbook provided by BCM.

“My tutor asks me how my day is going, how my weekend was, what homework I have. He has me try the math first to see if I understand, and helps me if I need it. I’ve been improving in math because my tutor helps me to understand things like word problems. I used to have a B- and now I have an A-. My tutor also helps me focus, and he taught me how to be truthful. I used to lie and say that I was done with my work when I wasn’t, but now I am ready to show my work.”

“My tutor helped me get extra credit for math and practice for the standardized test. I usually never practiced, but he had me do practice quizzes, and it was helpful because they had the same kinds of questions when I took the real test. He also helps me with homework. He lets me try the work by myself but helps me if I get stuck.”

Not only are the tutors a support to our students, but the students have also been a support to one another, encouraging their peers to focus and congratulating one another on good grades and other achievements.

As we head into the last months of the school year, there is still more to be done. “Our goal is to have all of our students achieving A’s and B’s. We’re also working with them on communicating with adults, an important skill now that they’re in middle school. We are grateful to offer programming in person, since this creates normalcy and consistency for our students and allows opportunities for other adults to provide support and encouragement. Please pray that God would continue to protect us during Covid as we offer in-person programming,” shares Waniya, ACS Program Manager.

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Gene Lopez is one of BCM’s newer staff members, having joined in September 2020 as the Teen Spiritual Program Manager. Gene was born and raised in the Central Valley of California, and has gained a lot of experience in coaching, teaching, mentoring and counseling, especially in the context of student ministries. After attending Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, Gene worked with inner city students in a ministry that combined lessons of faith and scripture with other aspects of daily inner city life such as fitness and social justice. He continued his focus on helping students when he relocated to the Bay Area, where he helped young people in their struggles with depression, anxiety, psychosis, substance abuse, homelessness and incarceration.

Among other things, Gene is managing the LiT program, which is short for “Leaders in Training”. Much like its name, LiT is a spiritual and leadership program for high schoolers. In its weekly meetings, high schoolers help each other (with the aid of volunteers) to discover their identity in God, as well as their God-given gifts and strengths, so that they are able to become leaders in their communities (whether at work, school, or with their family and friends). LiT is also fueled by a strong belief in the value of Biblical discipleship. Volunteers mentor the students in the program by creating committed and meaningful relationships.

Gene’s lived experience of knowing and feeling for students who have had to deal with unfortunate circumstances has helped him adjust to ministry in a pandemic. When asked about how he has seen God at work in LiT during the last few months, he was quick to answer that this season highlighted the importance of teaching students about self care, health, and wellness. He notes that LiT provides a rare space of support (from peers and from volunteers) when it comes to difficult topics as well as sources of stress and anxiety for students.

The signs that LiT has become such a space is the biggest source of encouragement for Gene. He is gladdened by every student who offers to lead in prayer, who initiates and facilitates vital conversations for their friends, and who provides new perspectives on complex systemic issues that range far outside the contexts of their high school classrooms. Gene recalls helping a student apply to a private high school, and how the student’s writing samples left a lasting impression on him. They were profound meditations on issues of immigration, incarceration, and polarization – and all this coming from an 8th grader.

His interactions with students in ministry thus far has built for him a personal conviction in the need for holistic ministry, a conviction that BCM also shares. “Holistic ministry” denotes the simple fact that Christian student ministries cannot be restricted purely to typical religious activities like prayer, worship, and Scripture. Student leaders and student programs should seek to reach each student’s whole person, which includes their physical health, their emotional lives, mental wellness, and spiritual development. The whole person is sacred, and made in the image of God.

Gene thinks about moments when he was told, “I don’t like your religion, but I like your Jesus.” The LiT program is a way to interact with Jesus without being distracted by checking the boxes of religiosity. For those who have a negative stigma when it comes to the church, they are still able to see Jesus not only as savior, but as kind, as a healer, a comforter, a voice for the marginalized, and a voice for the oppressed.

Besides growing and nurturing the students already within BCM programs, Gene also has a heart for students in the community who are not yet part of BCM. He advocates for the role of partnerships with non-faith based organizations such as schools, sports clubs and recreational clubs to increase the community’s access to programs like LiT. Gene believes that as human beings, we all have spiritual needs. By increasing the community’s access to the program, LiT will be able to help more students experience Jesus.

Looking into the future of the LiT program, Gene would appreciate the prayer of BCM supporters on the following three items:

  • Pray that our program volunteers and staff are able to serve the needs of the students in the community, and through them, the larger needs of the community

  • Pray for the students that are in the program, that they will be able to receive guidance in their lives – we all need to be mentored.

  • Pray that God would bring us into relationships with new students in His perfect timing.

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