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Inez and I met for our interview on a temperate Palo Alto day. We took a seat in the shade, but appreciated the warmth of the mid-day sun. Yes, as might be expected of two people who spent some amount of time in England (both in Warwickshire!), we talked about the weather.

As much as Inez likes the warmth, she has been to her fair share of cold places. As a nurse who went on medical missions, she’s been to countless countries — Scotland and Switzerland among them (as well as Canada, Honduras, Vietnam, Philippines, Bangladesh, Israel and more). Despite experience working in all these places, it was finally in the San Francisco Bay Area that she chose to settle. Inez cites the beautiful summer days, the flowers, and the fruit trees that remind her of home in Jamaica. She initially applied to work at Stanford for only a year, but was persuaded to put down three years in her application. “I stayed for 31 years,” said Inez.

Inez lived in East Palo Alto when she was raising her kids. She spoke of her struggles in trying to get her kids good schooling when many businesses and even high schools left East Palo Alto in the 1970s. Her two kids weren’t getting the academic support that they needed, and Inez was relentless. She spoke to the kids’ teachers, and some of them were as helpful as they could be given the circumstances. She spoke to the headmaster: “I said that if this continues, I will have to put my kids in private school even though I don’t want to. The headmaster suggested that I do so.” It was this experience with her kids in East Palo Alto that primed Inez to see the need for academic help through organizations like Hope Horizon.

She recalls how Hope Horizon was founded at the time (1980’s) by five college students who wanted to hold Bible studies; but they began to recognize many other needs. They discovered that the children were behind academically, so they started to offer after-school tutoring. Later on, they discovered that the children who were restless and not paying attention during class were hungry, so they provided a meal or snacks. “Seeing the need” is a common motif in my conversation with Inez. She found out about the ministry through her church and decided to help because she saw the need, “they weren’t here when my kids were growing up, but if I can help other kids…”

Inez’s instinct to see a need and help can be traced back to her family growing up. “My father was a farmer, and my parents always knew someone who needed help. My family was always reaching out. If someone had a baby and didn’t have a milking cow, my parents would send me with some milk. Or they would say, take this soup to so and so. I had to walk a lot to school and back, so when I get home and was sent out again, I wished that my father would give me time to study instead! Growing up, I was puzzled. I thought to myself, I never saw anyone giving them anything. They weren’t well off, but they were always reaching out.”

Because of that, Inez has always valued Hope Horizon for truly reaching out — extending themselves into students' lives in a way that addresses their needs but also gives them the encouragement to pursue their ambitions and value their education in a way that they might not get at home. “Reaching out” can also mean the other sense of the word: she sees Hope Horizon’s work and her own volunteering as having “reach” beyond the first circle of students that they come into contact with. The work that Hope Horizon does could touch many lives because the one student that is helped now could go on to help other students, and so on. “We never know the number of people that benefited from that one moment,” marvels Inez.

This sensitivity to community needs, this heart to “reach” and “touch” the lives of students, and this ripple effect — they all give hope to Inez that Hope Horizon can stay on and do the long-term foundation-setting work that many of the students in East Palo Alto need. “I think this organization will be here for many years to come. I cannot envision it being closed down.”

And yet, Inez has this confidence in Hope Horizon continuing because of her confidence in God. “God is always putting us in situations and with people we can serve.” She speaks of the times that God has worked through her in a way that only becomes clear in hindsight. Inez tells me of multiple experiences where she discovers that she “wasn’t just having a conversation with herself.” It was God working through her, speaking to her, encouraging her to do things she would otherwise rather not do for the sake of others. (I highly encourage you to say hi to Inez and ask her about those stories!)

Inez sees the same motivation and the same propulsive force in the people serving with Hope Horizon; always seeing a need, always reaching out, achieving results that are beyond their individual capabilities. At the end of her ruminations and many wonderful stories, Inez could only conclude: “God, you’re so amazing.”

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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.

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Updated: Aug 26, 2022

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.

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