By Rudabeh Shahbazi

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MIAMI– At West Perrine Park, there is more than outdoor activity; youth here are also flexing their minds, improving their table manners and bringing up their grades.

It’s all thanks to the Perrine Cutler Ridge Palmetto Bay Rotary Club’s After School program, now in its second year.

“We wanted to help out the community in some way, and we thought about actually buying a building and staffing it with tutors, and then we became familiar with West Perrine Park, and what they were doing here,” said Larry Todd, who volunteers his time with students in the program.  “It was almost exactly what we wanted to do, but we didn’t have all the overhead and stuff, and it was already established, so we thought, well, maybe we can just go in and raise the level, and give the cream to the crop there.”

Volunteers like Todd are doing their best to prepare these students for success, not only by teaching them etiquette and professionalism, but also self-awareness and self-confidence.

“If you get a bonus at work, it kind of gives you a little extra,” said Todd.  “They definitely had a budget here at the park, and we thought that if we could increase whatever they got for their budget, it would make the program better, and take the stress off of them.”

Todd says he strives to make the kids feel special.

“If I could change one life in there, I think that would make a big difference,” he said.

Kathy Jeffries comes to the park three times a week to help students with their homework.

“I’m a product of the same situation,” she said.  “About five decades ago, I was an elementary school kid, and we didn’t have a program like this in my neighborhood, so what I would have to do is wait until my parents came home from work.”

Jeffries’ own grandchildren don’t live in South Florida.

“When I come in with these children, I get hugs, I get a lot of attention from them, and I give a lot of attention,” said Jeffries.  “We hug, and we talk about their homework and how their day was. I love it.These are my grandchildren abroad.”

Thirteen-year-old Labria Brown has been in the program for a few months and says it has changed her as a person.

“I see the world in a different way, and I think twice before I do things,” she said.

Brown aspires to be a broadcast journalist and says the adults here are helping her get closer to that dream.

“I had a foolish mentality,” said Brown. “It was just immature, and I didn’t realize how childish I was being.”

Maria Kesti tutors here three times a week as well, and serves as the president of the club, and district secretary.  She is focused on teaching the children and teens life skills that will help them later.  She is so dedicated to the work, she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award and letter from the White House late last year.

“I think mentoring is so important because this is the future,” said Kesti. “And some of these students, I’ve been told they can’t do much beyond high school, so we try to instill in them that there are opportunities for them beyond high school, whether it be attending college, or attending a trade school or something, so that they can grow and do something they enjoy, and at the same time, make a living at it.”

Click here for more Mentoring Matters.


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