FT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – It’s Saturday morning at Gilda’s Club in Ft. Lauderdale.
Emily Kilgore, 22, and Danny Perez, 17, are two of dozens of young volunteers helping clean and organize this special space. Gilda’s Club serves as a refuge for cancer patients and their loved ones.
Serving in the community is one of the things Emily and Danny like to do together. Their bond is a special one, they grew up just 11 miles apart but their worlds are very different.
Perez grew up in Pompano Beach.
“My dad looks at me and says ‘look at the work I’m doing, I don’t want you to do the same kind of work’. Just looking at my dad working so hard as a roofer, I don’t insist on having many things. I explain to my siblings it’s not about what you want, but what about what you need, said Perez.”
Kilgore grew up in an upper-middle-class neighborhood of Coral Springs.
“I got to experience Europe for 10 days and I had so many opportunities to experience things because money was okay,” she said.
What brought them together? Firewall Centers. The after-school program provides tutoring and mentoring for students from sixth grade through high school. They partner with parents and teachers to give students a strong support system.
It started with one center and 40 students in 2010 and today they are in eight schools around Broward County serving more than 400 students.
“What I like about Firewall is that they don’t ignore you, they see me as an important person which I love,” said Perez.
“Danny was one of the first students that I connected with immediately. So sweet, such a gentle heart, and his laugh is contagious. He is hilarious and he just reached out to me immediately and we had that connection,” said Kilgore.
Perez, a junior a Blanche Ely High school credits his parents and Emily for his success. Since he started working with her, he’s become president of Firewall Center at Blanche Ely. He’s a National Honor Society member and he recently passed his Algebra EOC (end of course exam).
“Emily created a packet full of worksheets, what I loved about her she was always right here when I needed her. I also told her about my personal life situations. My mom, parents, my financial needs, she gave me tips, helped me with my resume and my service hours,” said Perez.
And for Kilgore, who now attends Florida Atlantic University, this is an opportunity to train for her future. She’s majoring in social work and hopes to become a family and marriage therapist.
“The kids I work with, it’s a small group, it’s finances, college, and schools, and working two jobs trying to help their parents, some don’t even have parents. For some of them, I’m like an older sister in a way. We are that hand that they can reach out to and we will grab back,” said Kilgore.
They came from two different worlds but are on a path to a remarkable outcome.
“College is going to be my next step and I’m getting prepared for it, said Perez.
Meantime, Kilgore shares her story whenever she can hoping more college students will become mentors.
“Because of Firewall honestly I’ve grown as a person so much these last two years. It is a very humbling experience that just being a simple servant to younger kids is so rewarding. It’s not a paycheck, it’s the interaction that keeps you coming back,” said Kilgore.
Firewall Centers were created seven years ago by Andy and Janeth Fernandez. The tragic death of a 13-year-old girl who overdosed on drugs while unsupervised after school is what spurred them to start this program.
If you are interested in becoming a mentor you can reach out to them at firewallcenters.org or at 954-530-1871. They are open to mentors applying and to donations as well.
If you are a mentor and would like to share your story with us, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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