Youth coalition seeks volunteers

Liliana Castillo

The Eastern New Mexico Youth Connection is looking for 1,000 volunteers by the end of July.

Some might say that’s a lofty goal and many have expressed that to the chair of the volunteer committee, Christina Martinez-Guajardo, but she’s not phased.

“If bigger cities can do it, we can do it. We’re more close knit. We’re nicer. We care about each other,” Martinez-Guajardo said.

The volunteers will work in kindergarten through third grade to help teach more children to read.

In Curry County, Adequate Yearly Progress reports show that in 2010-2011, 61 percent of students are not proficient in reading in elementary school. That number is 43 percent in Roosevelt County.

Martinez-Guajardo said research has shown that if students don’t learn to read by the end of the third grade, they’re more at risk for things like gang involvement, drugs, violence, teen pregnancy and dropping out of school. Those are the behaviors that the ENMYC was created to combat.

The ENMYC is a coalition between Curry County, Matt 25 Hope Center, ENMR-Plateau, Cannon Air Force Base, Clovis Police Department, Teambuilders Counseling, Curry County Juvenile Justice, United Way of Eastern New Mexico, Clovis Municipal Schools, La Casa Family Health Center, Juvenile Probation and Big Brothers Big Sisters.

The ENMYC was created in January 2010 by Amelia Sandoval, a family services specialist. She attended a gang workshop and learned about gang dynamics and how gangs are evolving and becoming more sophisticated.

Having lived in Clovis for several years, the thought of gang involvement wasn’t new, but Sandoval said the workshop opened her eyes and made her realize that Clovis needed to do something about gangs now rather than later.

“I had seen gang involvement in the middle schools,” Sandoval said. “The workshop is how I realized that if we don’t do something in Clovis, it’s going to get progressively worse. It is becoming a danger.”

Sandoval called a meeting between as many youth-oriented organizations as she could and they didn’t stop meeting. They created a strategic plan and began getting donations for their ventures.

The ventures early on included painting murals over graffiti around town, the most obvious sign of gang presence in a community.

“We’re making out own positive graffiti,” Martinez-Guajardo said.

The ENMYC has constantly evolved, Sandoval said, and is improving. The program is now divided into four committees focusing on education, youth, non-profits and government. Each committee focuses on how each of those groups can help youth.

• Government — The Clovis police and juvenile probation officers have gone into schools to show their civilian side to the students.

• Non-profits — Focusing on working with volunteers.

• Youth — Gathering youth who see the troubles their peers deal with and can help ENMYC deal with the issues.

• Education — Providing volunteer opportunities in the schools including developing reading programs.

Another goal of the ENMYC is to provide activities for youth in the area. Sandoval said this goal is achieved by each organization supporting each other’s events, such as the Cops and Kids Basketball event that took place June 4.

Donations have also paid for sports equipment for youth to play sports together. Sandoval said more volunteers are needed to support such activities.

“We need more people to get involved just for the fact that when there are greater numbers, more support, we can do a lot more and can affect more people,” Sandoval said.

TeamBuilders Director Tony Bustos said the organization has been involved in much of the ENMYC planning. They led a renovation of the basement at Matt 25, complete with a mural painted by teens and children.

“It’s important for us to work together in our community,” Bustos said. “This is us trying to be very proactive in finding things for our kids to do instead of sitting at a table saying there’s nothing for our kids to do.”

Bustos said Teambuilders targets youth with behavioral health issues and providing the youth with opportunities in the community is an important part of preparing them for their future.

“They may never have had anyone be interested in them or anyone to relate to,” he said. “These programs can be very positive.”

Sandoval said that many children have siblings or parents who are involved in gangs and the children are never provided a different opportunity.

“We’ve spoken to children who say that all it took was one adult that was interested in them and their success and that made them want to change. That’s why volunteers are so important. It doesn’t take a lot for them to affect someone’s life.”