Hello there.

We are so excited you have decided to visit the Year of Service Blog! This is a place where our AmeriCorps Members who serve as young adults leaders can share about their experiences while serving with Project Transformation. Please read their stories of transformation and learn more about our programs. We promise, our PT Corps Members are some of the most amazing young adults you will ever meet!

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Project Transformation Will Be With Me Forever

Claire Scavone, PT Corps Member at Pleasant-Mound Urban Park UMC

After listening to a Project Transformation recruiter speak to my Spanish 303 class last November, I remember thinking about what an adventure it would be to live in Dallas. When I submitted my Project Transformation application last December, I saw it as an opportunity to avoid living at home for the summer.  As I moved in for training in May, Project Transformation was merely a summer job; an adventure in a new city.  As I heard the testimonies from returners about their life changing experiences, I distinctly remember thinking, “They’re being overly sentimental, it’s just a summer job.”

Exactly two months later, it is 12:34 AM, and I need to be out of bed in six hours. However, I am overwhelmed with so much fulfillment and awe that I feel inspired to write this entire blog post. Project Transformation is so much more than just another summer job. Project Transformation is a place where kids show you a thing or two about the world and about yourself, whether you’re ready to hear them or not.  This summer, my Pleasant Mound kids have embodied life lessons that I will carry with me forever, and I’d like to share a few that I’ve reflected on recently.

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Thank you to Jaime and Jose for teaching me that sometimes the little things are actually the BIG things.  Our lunch time arm wrestling matches are filled with so much excitement and competition that you’d think we were at a high-stakes soccer match instead.  We’ve bonded so much through such a little thing, and our lunch time together is my favorite part of the day.

Thank you to Ruby and Andrea for showing me that taking the time to speak in someone’s native language (even if you’re not that good at it) can make a person’s day, and be the taste of home that they need.  Even a simple “hola” makes these two smile and feel better about the day. It’s the least I can do for them.

Thank you to Celeste and Daniela’s family for being the perfect strangers that have shown me kindness and love like I’ve never seen before.  I’ve been so amazed by how willing these people are to share their family, culture, and love with me.  In a city where I knew no one two months ago, I feel like I’ve found a little taste of home in their love for one another, and in the genuine compassion they show to me.

Thank you to Marquise and Richard for showing me that first and foremost I need to give encouragement, and give my all.  These little boys have required all of my patience, all of my kindness, and all of my attention this summer, and it has been so worth it.  With a few kind statements of “you can do it, I believe in you,” I’ve been able to see these boys love to grow and learn. They may have exhausted me most days, but it was beyond worth it as I watch Richard read his first book by himself today.

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And thank you to all of the Pleasant Mound UMC team for showing me that people and experiences are what truly make you happy.  Being at site each day, laughing and playing with our kids has been the closest thing to pure, genuine happiness that I’ve ever experienced.  Their laughter, their glowing smiles, their singing, their impatience, their occasional complaints, their gleeful shrieks, their creativity, their artwork, and most importantly, their love. They have brought all of this to Pleasant Mound UMC, and it has culminated in more joy than I thought possible.

Sure, I’ve heard all of these little lessons before, but I’ve never encountered people that embodied them so powerfully.  I will remember our kids by these lessons, as a constant reminder to live my life as they do. They may never know how much they have taught me, but I hope that I taught them a little bit in return. Project Transformation is so much more than just a job; it is a way of life that carries on far beyond August. People may not understand until they too have experienced it, but Project Transformation will be with me forever.

 

So Much More Than a Summer Job

Crystal Flores, PT Corps Member at Munger Place Church 

Project Transformation (PT) has always been my second home. Being a Kid to Corps Member (I attended the program as a child participant and now I work for the program as a PT Corps Member), I have so many memories of my summers spent at PT and can recollect all of the college students who invested so much in my life.  At the start of this summer, I knew this program would soon establish relationships not only between the Members, but with the children we work with as well. I serve as a PT Corps Members working with the middle school-aged students at Munger Place and I can attest to the nervousness every one of us faced that first day at our program site. Prior to the start of the summer, I was unsure if I would be capable of standing before a group of young teenagers and establishing a connection of some sort with them. I had so many doubts and was very timid. What if the kids did not like me? What if I couldn’t relate? What if they didn’t want to open up? What if I couldn’t’ impact their lives like past PT Corps Members did for me? I could not help but feel as if I was back in high school seeking to fit in and be accepted.

“Munger kids are great,” a past PT Corps Member told me as I expressed my concerns to him before my first day. From day one, I knew his words to be true! Upon our initial meeting, I could clearly see just how passionate each and every one of the kids are. They are so unique and have different ambitions. They are also so passionate to learn. They express their desire to grow in their faith, increase their literacy abilities, and they have set attainable goals for the summer. After a couple weeks into the summer when I thought I could not be any more impressed with my group of kids, I began to see how compassionate and kind -hearted they truly are as well. They are so insightful and creative and it continues to amaze me every day!

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When the weeks started to pass along and almost started to feel as if it were a monotonous routine, one particular incident opened my eyes. It was during a morning activity when the realization hit me like a ton of bricks. We were doing an activity where each student had a notecard with their name on it and they had to pass it around in a circle. Each student was told to write at least one word or phrase that was either encouraging or uplifting about the person whose card they received. As the activity came to an end, we each had to opportunity to read the comments on our cards. One comment struck me to the core: “You make us feel important”.

This one statement spoke volumes to me. If there was one thing I could give to these children, it would be that! Making these young teens feel loved and valued is something I will forever be grateful of doing. I realized I have the ability to play a tremendous role in each of their lives. Project Transformation is not just another summer job, it is an opportunity — a life transforming opportunity! My position is a blessing. I get to spend four days out of the week sharing my heart with kids who need to know they are loved and are important. I get to reveal to them their potential to do great things in this world. This job gives me the chance to invest in the lives of our future generation. Although this is a big task, it is a beautiful one!

The Story of a “Kid to Corps” Member

Richard Zavala, PT Corps Member at Christ’s Foundry

As a “Kid to Corps” Member (a Project Transformation college-aged PT Corps Member who once was a child participant at a site program), I thought I knew what I was getting myself into when I signed up to serve this summer. I am now slowly realizing that I had no clue! The Summer Program was amazing and all when I was younger and I learned many things, but as a leader in the program, it is ten times more amazing!

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It has been just a couple of weeks and the bond we have a team of leaders is something special. Many of the kids we serve are going through a lot at home and in their lives and it has been great to see them open up to us as their mentors. Everything has been great with the kids at our site locations as well as back at SMU where we all live while serving. I work with a great team and our ability to set our egos aside has been our greatest strength! All of the PT Corps Members are great people and Project Transformation has been a home away from home for me. I feel so honored and blessed to be working with such amazing kids and team members.

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The Confidence of a Superhero Pirate

Hannah Rodriguez, PT Corps Member at Walnut Hill UMC

Project Transformation is helping me prepare for the future because I want to be an elementary school teacher! Growing up, I always knew I wanted to make a difference whether it be volunteering some way in church or in my community. When I was told about this awesome program, I was more than ecstatic! It’s a place where I learn about classroom management skills and the importance of celebrating diversity. I can practice with curriculum, build relationships with my fellow PT Corps Members (college-age young adult leaders), and work with my kiddos for the summer.

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If I had gone anywhere else this summer, I don’t think I would be ready for my career or even student teaching. I am being immersed into this whole new world and learning more than I could have possibly imagined. I thank God every day for the chance to serve others because it makes me feel like I have truly found my vocation.

It is so neat to see what these kids can do with a piece of paper and a couple of crayons and just to witness what the kiddos are doing as they grow. For example, I was leading the “Young Artists” rotation one Thursday morning and we instructed the kids to draw themselves as a pirate. One of the fifth graders had the idea to draw himself as a “superhero pirate”. He did not have an explanation, but I have a feeling that he has the confidence to believe he can do whatever he wants to do with his life. I never thought to put those two (pirate and superhero) together, but he did! I believe Project Transformation has helped instill that confidence in him and helped him see how much potential he has! For this reason and more, I hope to stay involved with this program for years and years to come.

Leaders in Training Experience

Christina Lucio, LITE Coordinator at Casa Linda UMC

This is my first summer with Project Transformation, and so far I am already having a great summer with amazing friends and teammates. As a LITE Coordinator, I work with teenagers who are enrolled in high school.  LITE stands for: Leaders in Training Experience.  We do activities that focus on college and career readiness, volunteering, leadership, and more.  After a very rigorous training week, I had some apprehensions beginning the summer day camp as a LITE Coordinator at Casa Linda UMC.  Apprehensions such as: Would the LITES respect me (considering the fact that I am so close in age to the LITEs and I look like a teenager as well)? Am I truly ready to work with these kids? Will I have enough energy to get through the long days?

All of my apprehensions went away when I first met the LITEs. They were all very nice and showed me respect as a new member of the Casa Linda family. They truly opened up when we began talking about the curriculum on racial inequality and diversity. It was great to hear the many different opinions and thoughts of my LITEs, and it really helped me get to know them and where they come from.

I just finished my first full week of site at Casa Linda with my LITEs and I cannot wait for the rest of the summer with these great kids!

 

Mutual Transformation Through Relationships

Amanda Socias, PT Corps Member at Casa Linda UMC

The transformation, it’s more mutual than one would think, maybe even more so than I anticipated.  On May 28, 2016 at roughly 8:30 a.m., I walked through the doors of a fraternity house at Southern Methodist University.  Around 11 a.m. of that same morning, I found myself in a state of culture shock. I am by nature an introvert and suddenly I found myself in a place full of bubbly, extroverted people. I felt way out of place. I felt in some ways that I was incapable of being a part of this community.  I did not know if I was going to be able to do this. I did not know if I was truly what was wanted here, surely they must have made a mistake when they hired me. In all honesty, I was afraid that somehow I couldn’t connect with others, I couldn’t be accepted, and that maybe I couldn’t do this. In that moment, I heard a playback of someone special to me saying just before I left, “You’re going to have bad days, but you are meant to be there. Don’t give up.”

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Fast forward nearly two weeks and I am sitting in the back seat of my teammate’s car on the way home from our Summer Program site location, Casa Linda UMC. I laugh as I listen to the conversations that take place. It is funny how in such a short time, I already feel as though I have a second family in this new place. As I reflect on the day, I begin to realize that these kids are the most amazing people, and my teammates, well let’s just say they’re pretty amazing too.

After we arrive “home” I go up to my room and open my binder to find the awards that my kids made for me. I have received recognition for many things in my life, but somehow those pieces of construction paper covered in designs with my name mean the most. I realize that these children trust me, and admire the way I interact with them and my teammates. I have seen them in only a short time begin to develop a passion for reading and learning. I have already seen them challenge themselves by trying different books and activities. In such a short time, I am already seeing glimpses of their transformation.

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As I think of the start of their transformation, I walk into the dining hall where over a hundred faces are talking, smiling, laughing, and unwinding from the busy day. I talk to my friend about my day as we walk through the dinner line. As we sit and I begin to look around I realize that close to two weeks ago I was afraid of this place that is now home to me. I was afraid of not being accepted by these Members who are now my second family.  I was worried that I would not be enough, that this wasn’t right for me, that I could not do it. As I sat there I realized that I have stepped into a place that has helped me overcome my insecurities and allows my strengths to shine.

I knew when I came here that I would have the blessing of doing what I love, transform the lives of youth. What I did not know was that it would transform me as well!

How Did Project Transformation Get Its Name?

Barrett Granger, PT Corps Member at Casa Linda UMC

Although we have only worked our site (location of a Project Transformation Summer Day Camp) for a week and a half, I am already beginning to realize how this program got its name. Teaching students, grades 1 – 12, while also offering vocational discernment education for the PT Corps Members who help run the summer day camp program at each location is a daunting task. Now, if you throw in the fact that the individuals working with these students are college kids (PT Corps Members), mostly between the ages of 18-22, this task seems downright impossible. But, somehow, Project Transformation (PT) embraces this challenge each and every day, and continuously exceeds all expectations. This program has both kicked me in the butt and lifted me higher than I thought possible, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to call it home for the summer.

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Coming to PT, I had no idea what to expect. I have tutored kids one-on-one and in a group setting before, but I have never been in charge of a whole classroom of 20+ children. I was really nervous, and even afraid, of how I would handle being responsible for 80 or so children four days a week. I went in to my first day at Casa Linda UMC harboring all of these feelings and expecting the worst. But, what I found when I got there was a bunch of fun-loving and adorable kids who really like to read! During my first morning of the Summer Program, my fear and anxiety began to melt away and, with the help and support of my team, I began to really enjoy it!

Now, just a week and a half later, I find myself excited to wake up in the morning and foster a fun learning environment at my site, Casa Linda, so that each child feels accepted and ready to have some fun. The people here at PT, however, are who truly make this experience memorable. We have the privilege of working under some amazing staff and Site Coordinators who set great examples of how we should best run our summer day camp, while also being there to offer love and support when we make mistakes. Valerie Ramirez, our site coordinator here at Casa Linda, works tirelessly to help create the best atmosphere for learning at site, while also balancing paperwork, parents, and the PT Corps Members. As a Site Coordinator, she basically supervises and manages our team.  I know I ask her tons of questions about how to best deal with any type of situation that occurs at site, and she is always gracious and willing to not only answer my questions, but suggest new and interesting ways to help the kids enjoy their day.

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We have a great mix of returning and new PT Corps Members who create an awesome environment to live and work in, and I wake up each day excited to be a part of such a great community. I cannot wait to see how PT continues to transform not only the lives of our kids that attend the program, but also my life, and the lives of my fellow members. I can already see parts of my heart and mind changing for the better, and I am so excited to find out how much more I can grow through this experience!