2015 In the News

After-school program inspiring greatness - Santa Maria Times

After-school program inspiring greatness - Santa Maria Times

Daniel Maldonado will graduate from UCSB this June, and while that life-changing moment is a few months away, it's light years from the time he spent picking strawberries in the fields of the Santa Maria Valley.

The 21-year-old came to the United States a dozen years ago with his family hoping to find work and a better life. His parents, Jeronimo and Benita, came to Santa Maria, found work at local farms, and eventually wound up living at Los Adobes de Maria, an affordable-living apartment complex developed and operated by People's Self-Help Housing.

Once they settled, Daniel found his way into the Youth Education Enhancement Program (YEEP), an after-school program People's Self-Help Housing runs at 10 of its housing sites in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties. Nearly 350 students are in the free program each day.

"I had trouble adjusting to the (English) language," Daniel said of his early years in the area. "I wound up following some other kids to this program."

YEEP is a three-hour after-school program that helps K-8 children improve their English literacy and math skills. It also sharpens study skills, builds self-confidence and promotes high school graduation and higher education.

The lessons Daniel and his siblings learned there stuck with them and pushed them forward. Their parents, who didn't attend school beyond sixth grade, raised six children, four of whom have attended or are currently at four-year universities.

The oldest, 26-year-old Humberto, earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Cal Poly. Adan, 23, was working in the YEEP program at Los Adobes de Maria before being accepted into Cal Poly's ag business program. Mineyra, 19, is a freshman at Chico State. And the two youngest, Isia and Noemy are still in grade school.

Daniel, who will earn his bachelor's degree in Chicano studies, said his desire to reach beyond the strawberry fields sprouted at the Youth Educational Enhancement Program.

"The tutors there always talked about higher education and college," he said. "I remember telling my parents when I was young, 'I want to go to a university.' That really helped me."

Alejandra Mahoney, YEEP program manager, was one of Daniel's teachers. She credits his parents with setting their children on a path that has led them all out of the strawberry fields.

"That's why they came here," she said of the Maldonados. "They are so supportive of their kids. They're a great example for other parents."

Rochelle Rose, fund development director for Peoples' Self-Help Housing, said the aim of the YEEP is to break the cycle of poverty in immigrant families. She said Daniel is a perfect example of how that is possible.

Alexis Aguilar is another example. He attends Bonita Elementary and then comes home to the YEEP program.
Like Daniel Maldonado, he is respectful of how the program helps parents as much as the students.

"It helps a lot of children's parents. A lot of them work really hard and long," the 10-year-old said. "I like it. We make a lot of art projects. They treat us well. It's a good program."

Daniel wants to emulate his teachers. He intends to get a master's degree and doctorate and become a college professor.

"That's one of the main reasons I wanted to come to college. I see my parents everyday working so hard in the fields. I don't want them to be working there anymore," he said.