“I Work With Some of the Best People”

Phil Espinoza, Site Coordinator at Munger Place Church

One of the things I love about Project Transformation is the people, this community that surrounds and supports one another in amazing ways. Before the winter holiday, I had to go back home to Baton Rouge for my grandfather’s funeral. It was an amazing time celebrating his life with the whole family. To be there though, meant I had to miss several days of the Afterschool Program. Normally, this would have me very worried.

There are many things to remember when you are a Site Coordinator at an Afterschool Program site and in addition to our normally busy schedule, we were also in the middle of our big service project. The children were making blankets for Project Linus and I needed someone there to help direct the project.

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Despite everything, I wasn’t worried at all. The part-time AmeriCorps Member I work alongside, Pavel, is amazing with the kids and knows them very well. Dewey, our Reading Curriculum Coordinator, is someone who I can trust to make sure stuff gets done. With these two people stepping in to run the Munger Place site location while I was out, I wasn’t concerned at all about the program and I could focus on being present with my family.

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Some of my roommates (who are also Site Coordinators and one Reading Curriculum Coordinator) took it a step further! They got together and made a huge card for me with notes from so many people showing support for me. They got people from the Project Transformation office, fellow PT Corps Members, and friends from all over the country to write a note to me showing their love and support.

Conclusion: I work with some of the best people who help make this year amazing!

Former Participants Return as Leaders at Project Transformation

Valerie Ramirez, Site Coordinator at Christ’s Foundry UMC 

When I started this year as a Site Coordinator at Christ’s Foundry UMC, I expected so many things, but quickly found out that coming in with expectations is not the way to go.

In the past, I have struggled because I tend to plan everything, even the things I do not have control over. This year though, my plan is to find out what my purpose in life is and where I am most gifted. Working with my fellow Site Coordinators has been a blessing because even though I’m the “baby” of the group, they help me realize that I can do anything I put my mind to and that my age should not stop me. As a Site Coordinator, I have many responsibilities, but I think I have proven that age is not a hindrance.

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As a former participant in the program as well as a former PT Corps Member, I am familiar with the site locations at Casa Linda UMC and Elmwood UMC, but Christ’s Foundry UMC was initially new to me. I quickly learned, however, that being placed at this new location was the best thing that could have happened to me. I have grown so much at Christ’s Foundry UMC and I have met some amazing staff and church members. The best part though is the children I have the pleasure of working with every day. They are the best part of my job. I am so fortunate to be able to serve as their Site Coordinator. They are the sweetest and most adorable kids (even when they are being mischievous). When I am working with them, I realize time and time again how well I am able to relate to them.

Being able to give them the one-on-one attention every child not only needs, but deserves is the best part of my week! When I see them applying lessons we have taught them, I can truly see myself in them, learning and growing at Project Transformation. It is almost like they are “little Valeries” to me.

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A bonus to my job is having the best teammate I could have asked for: Berenice Baeza. Just like me, she is a fellow “KidtoCorps” Member. We both were former participants and now have returned as PT Corps Members, leading the very program we grew up in. We both have the same passion for Project Transformation because we grew up in the program and we were inspired to give back as much as we can. I honestly cannot think of anyone else I would rather work alongside. Managing a program of 25 kids is much easier with her by my side. She works wonders with the kids in the program and I have learned so much from her.

Part #2: Truly Transforming Lives

Jaime Newton, Site Coordinator at Grace UMC 

Now that I have committed to a year of service with the Afterschool Program, I have experienced more of the highs and lows that come with moving to a new place and finding myself. I have realized that during this transitional time in my life, I still have so much to learn. This year is a blessing in many ways, but that does not always make it an easy transition. Life back at home does not come to a stop and I have missed out on many events, both good and bad. However, every event that I’ve missed back at home has been a moment of growth, a learning opportunity, or a time of finding myself through Project Transformation, and for that, I am thankful. The kids that I work with everyday remind me why I decided to stay in Dallas for a year of service.

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Through my experience with the Afterschool Program, my kids have reminded me of some special parts of life that I sometimes forget:

  1. Always Be a Pal

My kids can be mad at each other one minute, and then the next minute, they are playing tag together on the playground. I have seen them help each other with homework, give each other a hug on a bad day, and laugh at something funny together. Let’s be honest, we all just want a few good pals in this life.

  1. It is Okay to Mess Up

This is one of our rules at Grace UMC. The kids will always make sure to remind each other that it is indeed okay to mess up when they misspell a word or make a mistake. I have been learning that adults are often hard on themselves during times of mess-ups too, and I am trying really hard to practice what I preach.

  1. Celebrate Accomplishments

I watch as my kids celebrate finishing homework, having a good day at school, reading a whole book, and making a new pal. I want to celebrate life’s accomplishments that way too. I just graduated from college in July and I did not slow down to celebrate the biggest accomplishment of my life thus far. Therefore, this year, I am promising to celebrate all of the big and small successes life brings my way, all thanks to my kids.

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  1. Bad Days are Inevitable

Plain and simple we all have bad days, but tomorrow is a fresh start. My kids have been teaching me that it’s okay to not be okay today, for tomorrow is a brand new day. They remind me that each new day comes with grace, new joys, and a time to keep growing.

  1. Just Worry About Today

My kids spend their time being present and focused on today. I want to strive to be present this year as well. I want to be intentional about enjoying life right where I am. I am so lucky that I am in a season of life where I get to play on a playground with some cool kids, dance in the rain on the weekends, and just spend time finding myself.

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Thanks to my Project Transformation community, my Pleasant Mound UMC kiddos, and my Grace UMC kiddos for teaching me so many lessons on loving my life and myself over these past few months. I am so excited to see what the rest of the year brings!

 

Part #1: Truly Transforming Lives

Jaime Newton, Site Coordinator at Grace UMC

My goals this past summer were to complete my service term with Project Transformation, make some new friends, and help some children find their purpose in life. However, my time spent with Project Transformation during the Summer Program greatly exceeded my expectations. My friend Tracie always says that “Project Transformation ruins your life in the best way possible,” and I cannot think of a more accurate statement. This organization provides college students with a safe environment to discover themselves, love on some amazing children, and connect families to the churches within their communities. Project Transformation has provided me with an environment that is very open to my creativity, growth, and true self.

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This past summer, the people on my team and this community pushed me to grow into a better version of myself. My team encouraged my ideas and asked for advice in my areas of strength. Although I never imagined myself staying in Dallas when I arrived in May, I am so thankful that God combined my love for children with an amazing organization like Project Transformation. I am also glad that I get to serve the amazing families at Grace UMC now during the Afterschool Program year!

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There have definitely been many highs and lows that I have experienced throughout my time with Project Transformation. The best part of my job is having the opportunity to watch my kids find joy in their accomplishments and in their lives. I get to watch them work hard on completing a book and hear the excitement in their voices as they share their accomplishments with me. We, as PT Corps Members, have the opportunity to challenge them to care about their futures. I see how hard they are working to become children with great character. This past summer, our children celebrated milestones like being adopted, losing a tooth, birthdays, and making new friends. I think at the heart of Project Transformation is the growth that occurs within the children, young adult PT Corps Members, and the communities served. This organization truly transforms lives!

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(Stay tuned for Part #2 next week!)

 

A Season of Gratefulness

Stephen Anderson, Site Coordinator at Pleasant Mound-Urban Park UMC

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I had my reservations upon my return to Project Transformation this year. I was already accustom to a certain lifestyle, I had a permanent circle of friends in Houston, and I’m much older than the average AmeriCorps Member, but I felt called so I leaped out on faith and returned this past summer.

Now, serving as the Site Coordinator at Pleasant Mound-Urban Park UMC, I’m afforded the opportunity to meet new people and absorb ideas and concepts that I may not had been exposed to before. Above all, my site’s lead pastor has been the dominating force behind breathing new ideas in my spirit. Pastor Annelda Crawford at Pleasant Mound UMC has been such a great leader, fine example, and encouragement when I need it the most.

She has humbled and inspired me in more ways than one. She does her job with a smile and if ever I need her, she’s always there in a heartbeat. I’m so grateful for this experience but most of all I’m grateful to be under her wing! Through her teachings and beautiful spirit, I know that I am not only a better Site Coordinator than when I started, but I will be a better person when I walk away from this experience.

Story #2: Unshakable Bonds at Urban Camp

Mitchell Lambert, Site Coordinator at Elmwood UMC 

(See last week’s installment for Story #1)

My second story developed over my first three years serving with Project Transformation. At the end of the summer, our middle school students attend Urban Camp in Bridgeport, Texas for the final week of programming. The boys stay in 2-3 cabins on-site normally. During this particular summer, I had been serving at Grace UMC. We brought seven boys to Urban Camp and we were teamed up with the boys from Munger Place and Oak Cliff on the Blue Berry Bandits Team a.k.a. Triple B or B3. There were two boys from Munger Place, both of whom I had shared a cabin with the previous year. Since I had previously served at Oak Cliff, I knew 12 of the 15 boys that came from Oak Cliff as well. Needless to say, having all of these connections with the youth made for an amazing week. My fellow Corps Members and I encouraged the boys to have as much fun as possible (while still following the rules).

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The youth from Oak Cliff were older than most of the boys from Grace and Munger Place, so they were the predominant leaders. Their leadership created a bond between the boys that the PT Corps Members simply could not have instilled on their own. Two of the Oak Cliff boys are best friends because they grew up together in the program like many of the participants at Oak Cliff. These two boys played a major role in our experience.

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These two boys were the driving force behind the positive morale of Triple B and the ones who preached inclusion and integration between the youth who all came from different site locations. They knew the impact that Urban Camp would have on someone if they truly came into the week with a positive mindset and a drive to create a fun, intentional environment. They took in one my eighth graders who came with me from Grace. The three of them clicked right from the start. Throughout the week, great discussions were had and eloquent, slightly elaborated, stories were shared. We stayed up late sharing what circumstances in life had brought us to where we were, what we hoped for in our lives, who we wanted to meet, and how we wanted to change our personal worlds. These three boys were incredible all week. They challenged me to be a better person, listener, leader, learner, and friend. We continued to build on bonds that had been established throughout my time of service at Project Transformation, and I hope that I never fall out of touch with them, but all good times have to come to an end.

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Our most recent end was the final day of Urban Camp. This day is always the worst day of the year. In the morning we must say good bye to all of our kids and in the afternoon, we must say good bye to all of our fellow PT Corps Members. This year, my morning was so much worse than my afternoon. Saying goodbye to all of the campers is hard, but those three broke me to pieces. Each one separately told me that I had made Urban Camp 2015 the best week of their lives, that I had been a great example for them to follow, and that they wished they never have to leave. The only thing I could tell them was that I loved them and if I had a son, I could only hope that he would be as great as the three of them. I broke. I broke so hard. I could not contain my emotions that burst through the dam surrounding my heart. Tears were flowing down my face at a greater volume than Knowshon Moreno after hearing the National Anthem. These boys made me feel.

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These stories have been the pinnacle of my time at Project Transformation. They are stories of when I have been most impacted at Project Transformation, and of when I believe I have been the most impactful. All I can do is pray that I can continue to have my life changed and that I will continue to change the lives of our future leaders in the process.

Story #1: Inspiring School Spirit and Much More

Mitchell Lambert, Site Coordinator at Elmwood UMC 

The mission of Project Transformation: to engage young adults in purposeful leadership and ministry, support underserved children and families, and connect churches to communities in need. This simple line has framed the last three years of my life. Project Transformation has provided me with a place to mentor young kids who have shown me how to live a life of joy, churches that have taken me in as one of their own during my times in Dallas, and friends who have guided my decisions since I met them. I am currently serving at my fourth Project Transformation site location. I have served at Oak Cliff in 2013, Christ’s Foundry in 2014, Grace in 2015, and Elmwood during the 2015-16 academic year. There are two experiences throughout my terms of service that have shaped my perception of my work at Project Transformation.

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The first story happened during my second term of service, but the impact was made in the previous summer. My first term of service was at Oak Cliff in the summer of 2013. I had some wonderful kids. My second summer of service was at Christ’s Foundry in the summer of 2014. During that summer, I was able to go to a Family Fun Night at Oak Cliff. I walked in to see one of my children from the previous summer wearing a LSU shirt, my alma mater. I sat down and immediately started telling him how much I loved his shirt and all he could do was sit there and laugh about how ridiculous I was being. His mom came and sat across the table from us and overheard me talking about his shirt. She began to tell me that he had a PT Corps Member the previous summer. The Corps Member was passionate about his school and showed her son so much love, compassion, and fun that he wanted to emulate that person’s passion for life. The Corps Member was always smiling and telling her son that he could change the world even if it was just one person at a time. She then told me that her son received the LSU shirt he was wearing as a Christmas present and that it quickly became one of his favorite shirts. Then, she closed by simply saying that she hoped her son would have PT Corps Members like that for the rest of his summers at Project Transformation.

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The entire time, the mom was unaware that I was the person she was talking about. I could not believe that this family still remembered me much less thought of me so highly. Hearing this story straight from her allowed me to see that all of my work from the summer before had come to fruition. I had made a difference and unlike some of my peers, I was able to see that difference firsthand!

(Stay tuned for Mitchell’s second story next week!)