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by Tiffany Teng

Sitting down over Zoom with Rolando Zeledόn, former Executive Director (ED) of Bayshore Christian Ministries, feels more like hearing about a tech startup than a nonprofit reaching its third decade - in a good way. In a 45 minute recap of 15 years, I’ve heard about their robotics team, aiming for “step function” growth instead of incremental growth, and that the kids are learning design thinking principles! I sat down with Rolando to reflect on his time leading BCM and what’s in store next.

Before I dive in, I want to say that it wasn’t inevitable that BCM - or Rolando! - would be here, thriving together.

2008: BCM Staff, including Rolando and Tiffany

In 2007, I joined the staff of BCM as Executive Assistant to the ED at the time, founder Andrew Hartwell. Within a few months of my joining the team, Andrew announced he’d be stepping down and the search would begin for a new ED. I remember the anxiety at the time, preparing for such a major leadership transition, and knowing the reality that most nonprofits don’t survive their founder leaving. The year 2008 also brought the financial crisis, which was a fundraising crisis for nonprofits. Those were tough years where making payroll each month for the staff of 20+ was a matter of faith, not certainty.

For Rolando, how did an engineer, with 2.5 degrees from Stanford (BS, MS and part of a PhD!), end up leading an organization focused on transforming youth? (A problem any parent can attest is the most complex, least straightforward and most unscalable challenge an engineer can tackle.) I’m not sure anyone can know exactly where or when divine intervention begins or ends (and some would argue, it has neither; it simply is.) but Rolando points to four years earlier, at his 10 year reunion at Stanford, when he got involved with a community technology nonprofit, PluggedIn, which connected him to Andrew, who convinced him to join as Director of Operations. This was also around the same time as Rolando’s personal decision to rededicate his life to Christ.

2013: BCM's EPA Chica Squad

In some ways, that’s the same thread among all the stories of the staff, parents, kids, and volunteers who are part of the BCM family: that someone invited them to come and that God showed up in their life when they went to BCM.

In 2008, the Board and management team was at a strategic crossroads with three paths: shut down, be absorbed/merge with a larger organization, or keep moving forward. Reflecting on the 12 years since, what God, Rolando, and the BCM team have accomplished is staggering. BCM has served as a convener in the community, of churches across denominations, nonprofits with specific focus areas, and community and business partners, to face the challenges of gentrification, decreased funding for the arts/education, and housing instability. BCM has stayed true to its mission, “equipping east-of-Bayshore youth to grow spiritually, gain life skills and develop as leaders so that they have hope and a future,” while inspiring a new generation of BCM leaders and constantly adapting to the evolving needs of the kids and youth.

2016: BCM's Robot Spartans win two Judges' Awards

I asked Rolando how he saw God show up both personally and professionally in the last fifteen years at BCM and his answer illuminates both who he is and who God is. Rolando describes seeing God at work in the littlest things to the biggest challenges; from seeing a child’s face light up for the first time because they’re learning to read to financial provision month after month for the staff’s salaries and the students’ programs. (I’ll let you decide which is the greater challenge!)

Rolando describes BCM as “the full gospel” and to use more technology terms, “pull instead of push”, which together, tell a story of how people encounter God not through abstract theology being preached at them, but through their human needs for connection, safety and growth being met first by other intentional, proactive humans who also happen to know and follow a loving God who cares about justice and equity.

2020: Praying at VBS during Covid

Listening to Rolando, I’m struck by two things: first, many of us in the professional world would love to have the congruence Rolando describes: serving and leading as Executive Director for BCM sits at the center of his passions for God, for technology and for educating young people. Each individually can transform a life; the trinity of all three is uniquely powerful. Second, Rolando’s trio of passions has shaped BCM as much as it has shaped him. Having been at BCM in 2008 and marveling at what it is now, I see the imprint of an engineer who loves technology and understands that technology fluency is just as important a life skill as literacy for future leaders.

As BCM enters its 37th year of operation, the staff and the future ED face new challenges: a

pandemic that is fundamentally changing both education and how we interact as human beings, a rapidly gentrifying community with shrinking socio-economic diversity, and technology continuing to transform everything we know. Yet, listening to Rolando & reflecting on the last 15 years with him, I am reminded of what is constant: God provides - decade after decade - both the creative, talented people and the resources to help BCM and its youth flourish.

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The CREATE summer camp at BCM is a five-week program for middle school students who want to immerse themselves in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). As one might expect, BCM’s staff at the camp teach skills like experimentation and the scientific method in their daily programming. However, they also work hard at creating an environment where students learn to work with each other, open themselves up to the world, as well as have fun! One of BCM’s staff members at the camp, Angie Menjivar, particularly enjoys creating this experience for the students.

This is Angie’s second summer working with the CREATE camp. Outside of her summer months, she is a rising senior at Saint Mary’s College where she plans to graduate with a major in Sociology. Angie is proud of her choice to major in sociology because it has expanded her view of the world and of other people. “Learning sociology has opened my mind up, and opened my perspective and point of view. I’m a person who likes to listen to others’ perspectives even though I might not agree with them.” Alongside going through academic workbooks and building catapults with her students, she also brings this considered and open view of the world to the camp classroom. “When a student says a general stereotype, I like to say “Hey, not everyone is like that.” I try to give them more information. I have a sociological viewpoint now, it’s just stuck in my brain.

When she’s not giving her students important life perspectives, she loves having fun with them and just hanging out. She describes herself as someone who is very laidback when working with students, which she has done ever since high school. She likes to joke around with them, and goes out her way to get to know them. Every day at CREATE summer camp, Angie has a policy during break-time to get to know as many of the students as possible. “I like to talk to the other students during break that aren’t my students, because I want to give all the students some attention and get to know every one of them. The students like to play basketball sometimes, and I like to play with them.”

Getting to know them is the most exciting part of the camp for her, and she hopes that making new and long-lasting friendships will be the most exciting part of the camp for the students. She recalls fondly her childhood experience of attending East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring (EPATT), an afterschool program that she was a part of from 2nd grade to the end of high school. Through EPATT, she has gotten to know many close friends whose friendships she treasures to this day. “What I’m most excited for is to see how much these students have grown compared to when they first came in. I’m already looking back to the first day when everyone was quiet, and now everyone’s starting to learn each other’s names. I hope they become friends in a way, and when they see each other in the future, they’ll say 'oh hey!’ Those friendships are so valuable.”

Angie has been working with youth for a long time now, but this years' experience of weathering COVID-19 is certainly new to her. “We have to take a lot of policies into consideration. We have to make sure that all the students have their masks on. If they touch a ball or sit on a desk, we have to sanitize everything – to make sure that we provide the students a safe environment, and to make sure that we as teachers have a safe environment too.” Despite the limitations of these necessary public health policies, Angie has found a way to make the day-to-day of the summer camp work for herself and the students in her care. 

Almost every day during this year’s summer camp, Angie starts her day with a smoothie (fruits, peanut butter, flax seeds!) before picking up a student and a co-worker on the way to BCM. Once there, she preps to make sure that her students get the most out of their classes and projects even though they have to be less hands-on than previous years. One of her ideas in the classroom is to offer her students incentives to finish up their projects through a ticketing reward system. One of the projects her students have done with her is making their own ice cream! (Mostly yummy, though some were too salty.) After finishing up her day around late afternoon, Angie likes to chill by getting into video games (she usually loves the outdoors in pre-pandemic times). Animal Crossing is her game of choice for now. 

Angie concludes that she is very thankful for her life and situation right now. She is in a happy place, and she hopes that by teaching at the summer camp, she can help her students, “Grow up and do something cool but also enjoy living their lives now, because they’re kids!”

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We are so proud of our 2020 LiT high school graduates! They have worked so hard and are now on to the next steps of their journey. Our LiT program manager is proud to share with you more about their accomplishments - there is much to celebrate.

Violeta, also known as V to our group, has been a leader at LiT from day one. V has been a part of StreetWorkz and LiT and has also served as a volunteer with VBS and as an intern and classroom leader for CREATE Academy. Some of the things I appreciate most about V are her strength and resilience and heart to give back to others.

V is incredibly mature, driven and responsible and is always willing to share her experiences and story to encourage others. I’ve been so blessed by her desire and ability to serve in so many different capacities, from speaking at our banquet, to leading activities at LiT to bravely sharing her own journey of growth and learning to encourage others. It’s been really special to see how God has specifically used her to encourage and teach students she’s worked with in VBS and CREATE.

Working with kids at BCM helped affirm V’s dream of becoming a teacher, so I’m so excited that she’s graduated from Menlo Atherton High School and will be attending San Francisco State University this fall to study child development to pursue this goal. I am excited to see how God will continue to use her to bless others in her future.

Unlike V, Yenifer joined LiT in the start of her junior year of high school at Menlo Atherton. V brought Yenifer to visit LiT one day and encouraged her to stay, and she quickly became a part of the BCM family. Yenifer has been such a joy to have in program and even as a newer student, she was and is a great leader and example for our younger students and for the rest of our program.

On our retreat last year, she was our only junior and was able to share her story with our group during a sharing time. This encouraged others to do the same and helped students and volunteers become closer. This also led to a special time of prayer and worship for our students. I don’t know if Yenifer knows how much of an impact she’s had on the program, but I’ve seen her learn more about herself and demonstrate incredible thoughtfulness in her reflections on how God is at work in her life and in the lives of others, even during this season of pandemic. I have been so blessed by her attitude, openness and faith and her heart for worship. I know that she has blessed the program immensely. Yenifer also graduated from MA and is going to SFSU.

She hopes to work in health care and obstetrics in the future. I am so proud of both V and Yenifer and know that they have worked incredibly hard to graduate high school and get into college. God has already done amazing things in their lives and I am excited to see them continue to grow in this next season!

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