Wednesday, March 13, 2013

After-School Program Offers Support to Struggling Youths


FAIRFIELD — Paula Vargas and Shawna Serpas know that middle school can be a tough time for many students.

Vargas and Serpas see evidence of this every day as teachers at Green Valley Middle School.
Students from all walks of life are dealing with academic, social and familial pressures at this age, Vargas and Serpas said.

To help give them direction, Vargas started up the after-school program Legacy Youth Incorporated in 2009 while she was still teaching at Sullivan Middle School and moved it to Green Valley Middle School after Sullivan closed. Vargas explained that Legacy is an acronym that stands for Learn, Educate, Goals, Aspire, Courage, Youth.

Vargas helps students with a variety of problems, though she doesn’t like to label them as “at-risk” youth. These are students who have academic or behavioral problems, she said. Legacy offers students who are “overlooked and underserved” a safe haven and sense of family as well as support.

Vargas asked Serpas about helping with Legacy while they were teaching at Sullivan.

“I wanted to have leaders with that love in their hearts,” Vargas said. “She had that heart.”

Vargas also enlisted the help of college student Dwight Lundy, who she believes can relate to and speak to the students as a young person.

Legacy meets once a week after school with about 40 Green Valley students. They often bring in guest speakers to talk about their life stories. In the past, Legacy has hosted Fairfield Police Chief Walt Tibbet, community advocate Raymond Courtemanche, former NFL player Quinton Ganther and former gang members. Serpas said they want students to hear both sides of life’s story to help them choose the right direction.

To stay in Legacy, students must keep their grades up. Vargas, Serpas and Lundy keep track of the students’ academic standing and offer tutoring when necessary.

The group also takes the students on field trips to college campuses and sports games. Lundy said he once took a group of Legacy members out to breakfast and they were shocked he paid for their meals.

“They asked why I would pay for them,” Lundy said. “I said, ‘Because I love you guys.’ ”

The love and support Legacy gives its students is one of the main reasons Vargas started the group.

“It’s just about kids nobody wants to love,” she said. “We want to be able to help.”

Legacy hopes to extend its reach in the community by achieving nonprofit status. To learn more about the program or its upcoming events, find Legacy on Facebook.

Article Source: Daily Republic 

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