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Back of the Room to Head of the Class
By Sandra Foreman
“I was a trouble maker.”

That’s how Claudia Tarango described herself. “I was a sophomore in high school, had a boyfriend who used drugs, and began hanging out with the wrong crowd. His friends became my friends and I thought it was cool to be with them. I really didn’t believe in God.”

Claudia Tarango

Claudia’s grades showed it. Her Cs, Ds and Fs translated to a 1.0 grade point average. But a cousin of hers told her about Kids at Heart, an afterschool tutoring program with UPLIFT San Diego, an inner-city ministry that partners with the Rock Church.

Now College Bound

“The first day I went there it was scary,” said Claudia. “The tutors were all in college, smart and I just didn’t think I would fit in.”

But once she began attending, Claudia learned some of them shared some of the same experiences she did. The tutors were positive, caring and consistently showered her with love and genuine concern.

As a result, Claudia’s grades turned all the way around: going from a 1.0 to a 3.6 grade point average. She will be attending San Diego State this fall, the first in her family to ever go to college.

Currently, there are almost 130 students enrolled in 11 sites in San Diego,  with approximately 125 tutors participating. "Our goal is to increase the number of students involved to 165...and increase our tutors to 165."-- Perla Lira, coordinator, Kids at Heart

Communication Challenges

Although Vanessa Galena got good grades, she still had major hurdles to overcome.

Vanessa was very shy. Living with her mother and younger sister, her mother worked hard to clean other people’s homes. On top of that, her mother did not speak English. As a result, the ability to communicate effectively with confidence became a challenge for her both in and outside of school.

But one day, her mother heard about Kids at Heart. She learned Vanessa could learn how to increase her language skills, communicate effectively with others and at the same time, have someone to go to for any problems with her homework.

Reluctant at first, Vanessa went at her mother’s insistence. She began attending the Kids at Heart tutoring program while in the 5th grade. After building a rapport with her tutors she learned how to socialize more and interact with people. If she had problems or questions about homework, she was able to contact her tutors.

“I knew there was a God, but I just wasn’t into it. But since coming here, I’ve learned more about God.” Now Vanessa goes to Bible study each week, learning more about God all the time.  She too, will be attending San Diego State in the fall, the first in her family to attend college.

Success Stories

Vanessa Galena

These two young women are just a sampling of the kinds of success stories one finds at Kids at Heart, the after-school program of Uplift, a ministry designed to making life better for inner city residents.

Currently, there are almost 130 students enrolled in 11 sites in San Diego,  with approximately 125 tutors participating. The program offers tutoring and mentoring for low-income and racially diverse children from grades K through 12. Kids come from neighborhoods like Little Italy, Golden Hills, Sherman Heights, Mid-City and City Heights. Tutoring and Bible Study takes place at local churches, community centers and on school campuses. Students meet weekly for one and a half hours.

“Our goal is to reach out to more students and increase the number of students involved from 120 to 165 students. We would also like to increase our tutors to 165 tutors,” said Perla Lira, coordinator for Kids at Heart. "We really want to be able to help as many kids in this community as possible and make a greater impact in their education. We would also like to have more sponsors for each site, to help us provide snacks, school supplies and books.”

Why be involved? Claudia and Vanessa are evidence of what love and caring will do in young lives. Both of them will be the first in their family to graduate from high school and move on to college.

“You get to be a part of something -- changing lives, planting seeds, being able to serve,” Perla said. “After all,” she continued, “isn’t that what God commands?”

Help change a child’s life today. Love a child back to life. Become a tutor. Contact Perla Lira at [email protected] or call at (619) 234-4504 for more information.

For more information about the Youth Tutoring Ministry, click here »