Jake Medina began volunteering as a tutor with Ascentria’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program (URM) when he was a freshman at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. Jake is now a senior and, when looking back over the past four years, he tells us that his life has been changed through volunteering.
Jake explains, “When I first started volunteering, I thought that I was leaving campus to help other people but before long, I realized that I was getting so much more than I was giving. Getting to know the students in the URM program, hearing their stories and witnessing their resilience and determination to move ahead in their lives has changed me. I no longer have pre-conceived notions of others and I have grown to be more empathetic and sensitive.”
Jake also shared a memory that he always carries with him. “A poignant moment in my volunteer experience occurred while I was tutoring Mario, whose will to learn, positive attitude, and friendly demeanor struck me. One day while he was typing an essay I noticed that he had scars running up and down his hands. I was amazed at the juxtaposition of the moment. Mario was a student with great potential, studying hard to succeed. His promising future, represented by his interest in learning to use the computer, showed that he had the opportunity to attain success. At the same time, his past, represented by the scars, would always be a part of who he is. Looking closely at his hands typing on the computer, I viewed hardship and hope, promise and pain. I realized then that despite having physical and emotional scars, Mario and others like him could thrive and succeed when given support and up-to-date resources.”
Impressed by the dedication of Ascentria’s students, Jake wanted to find a more productive way for them to traverse the educational gap many face upon arrival to America. Believing that integrating technology into the tutoring sessions would be a way to enhance student engagement and session productivity Jake, along with others, started the Student Empowerment Program (StEP). StEP seeks to enhance education through access to innovative technology, educational support, and involvement of the community. Jake credits the Holy Cross community, Ascentria, and other partners that have helped to make StEP a success thus far. StEP currently has an executive board of 3 students, including Jake, and another 15 students in various leadership roles.
Through organic, grassroots growth, StEP now has 17 tablets that are sent to various sites throughout Worcester with Holy Cross volunteers. The tablets serve as a resource to students if they need to access online material, finish homework and want to use an educational application, or want to learn to type. Essentially, the tablets bring the power of online resources and put them in the hands of students and tutors.
Kristen Penkala, URM’s Community and Legal Coordinator, knows Jake well. When asked about Jake, Kristen smiles and says, “Jake is an incredible advocate for our children and supporter of Ascentria. His enthusiasm is unparalleled. We work with children with varying traumas and Jake always finds the way to connect with them and pushes them to achieve more! As in all things he does, he is remarkably humble and thoughtful. He has impacted the lives of our children through his time, energy, and dedication. Jake is truly the definition of compassion and service.”
Sincere and heartfelt thanks to Jake from all of the employees at Ascentria; we are honored to have you on our team!