Holiday Fund: After-school program helps youth realize potential


● Gifts to the Holiday Fund benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula. Donate today.

Story by David Cruz, development associate, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula.

As the final bell rings at Menlo-Atherton High School, some students celebrate the end of the school day. However, for ninth-grade student Esther, the bell signals the beginning of the MyLife after-school program.

MyLife is a ninth-grade transition program of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula in partnership with the 49ers Academy and M-A High School. The program provides academic support, case management and mentorship.

Esther grew up in East Palo Alto, and in middle school moved to the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park. Although she started high school academically strong and ready to learn, her grade-point average dropped and she struggled to navigate this daunting new experience.

Her parents were not able to attend high school before migrating to the U.S. from Mexico, and they now work multiple jobs, making it difficult for them to advocate for Esther or help guide her through this new journey.

"My parents work long hours to provide our family with what we need," Esther says, "but what I need most now is support with school and I get that at MyLife."

The MyLife program is designed to teach students to advocate for themselves and take advantage of the many resources M-A offers. It encourages students to be open to help and to know how to ask for help.

Since joining MyLife, Esther has taken advantage of homework help, one-on-one case management, and field trips, including a recent tour of Santa Clara University. She has a dedicated mentor MyLife Success Coordinator Samantha Cortez.

"I can trust Sam she is cool to be around and I appreciate how she keeps an eye on my grades and what I am going through at home," Esther says.

Samantha describes Esther's growth in the program: "I would meet with her more often because she grew from our interactions. I have helped her realize her potential through her own steps she takes to be what she wants to be."

Esther enjoys the music production class at the Menlo Park clubhouse, which motivates her to express herself and explore ways to build her creativity.

MyLife also gives students like Esther an opportunity to give back to the community. She volunteers at workshops that teach parents how to access their student's grades online, support students during final exams, and help with college applications.

Esther also takes part in service learning opportunities. She is working on care packages for the homeless. She and her peers will deliver them in January to a local shelter.

Esther comes from a family of seven and will be the first in her family to graduate from high school and attend college. She credits Samantha's mentorship for her academic recovery and ability to pursue her goals of attending college and even studying abroad.

Though she has struggled, she is determined. "I'm proud that I haven't given up," she says. "I am working hard so I can go to a college far away like Oxford in England or the University of Sydney in Australia."

Each year, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula provides expanded learning opportunities to more than 1,800 at-risk youth, like Esther, at nine locations across eastern Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and the North Fair Oaks area of Redwood City. Members, ages 6 to 18, attend programs at least twice a week during the school year and receive tutoring, mentoring and academic support.

Go to for more information.

● Gifts to the Holiday Fund benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula. Donate today.

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