Giving Back through Community Service and After-school Programs
Citlali, 14, participates in after-school programming in Los Angeles, CA. Below, she shares her experiences as a member of After-School All-Stars (ASAS), learning about the importance of giving back to her community.
How did you get involved After-School All-Stars (ASAS)?
A couple of days before 6th grade started, I was accepted into ASAS, a free after-school program. I was so excited to have fun activities to do after school through ASAS, including getting help with homework, taking field trips to local museums, and participating in a science fair, which my team won! I had previously participated in after-school programs but when they got too expensive, I was lucky enough to have ASAS at my school. I was happy that my mother wouldn’t have to pay any more for after-school care. Little did I know that ASAS would change my life.
Through ASAS, I met a group of friends I can relate to; we consider ourselves nerds or geeks or fan-warriors (fans of anime books and TV). I fit in. ASAS is a big part of my life. With the help of coaches, I prosper in my studies. I have a 4.0 grade point average, which means A’s in all of my classes. I was secretary of Entourage, our student leadership program, for two years, and now I’m the president. I also participate in many other activities, including the H.O.P.E (Helping Other People Everyday) event that celebrates community service.
Tell us more about your community service initiatives.
In June 2014, I was chosen to be the representative for the Los Angeles chapter of the Youth Advisory Board. Thanks to private sponsors of our community service initiative, Life Service Action, I got to go to Washington, DC, to participate in a leadership and advocacy training summit so that I could be better equipped to lead community service projects at my school. While there, I had a chance to meet U.S. Senator Harry Reid, got my picture taken with Senator Barbara Boxer, and met staff from Senator Diane Feinstein’s office and two members from the House of Representatives.
On that trip, I also met racecar drivers from Mazda Motorsports, which is one of the sponsors. They helped me learn about the dangers of distracted driving. At the end of the trip, I was asked to lead service projects at my school to raise awareness about distracted driving. I organized an event at my school to get kids aware of the dangers of distracted driving. So youth would be interested, I tried to make the event fun but informational. At the event, two officers from the Los Angeles Police Department talked about distracted driving and its consequences. A local car club also put some of their nicest cars on display. The informational booth had flyers with statistics about texting while driving. I also helped plan fun activities, including an obstacle course, for kids participating in the event. It was a big success, and I knew everyone walked away with a new perspective on distracted driving and texting while driving.
I was inspired, and I’m not stopping there!
What sort of activism have you been involved in lately?
Recently, I participated again in the H.O.P.E. event. I spoke to a crowd of kids about my project on distracted driving, and a driver from Mazda Motorsports was at the event to help spread the word about staying safe while on the road.
I want to get the word out to as many people as possible and make sure that kids are telling their older brothers and sisters, friends, and family members that distracted driving can hurt people of all ages. Now, even though I can't drive — and won't be driving for a long time — I care very much about stopping texting while driving. Texting while driving is the number one killer of teen drivers. If I can save at least one life, it would mean the world to me. I would achieve my goal.
Have you seen any changes at home?
What I’ve learned has also affected my family. I have an older brother who drives. After I participated in the summit in DC, I had a new awareness of the dangers of texting while driving. I noticed that my brother was texting while driving on the freeway. He is now breaking this habit because of my constant reminders about the dangers and the statistics. And my mother now hands her phone to me to text for her while she is driving — that helps to keep both of us safe.
What are your plans for the future?
I am just a normal girl, but I am very grateful for these wondrous opportunities. When I graduate from high school, I want to attend UCLA [University of California–Los Angeles] to study medical science or government and become a pediatrician or politician. I hope more youth will take a close look at their communities and see what problems are bothering them and then fix them. My advice is to take all of the opportunities you can. Just go for it! If opportunities don't come knocking at your door, do some research so you can chase your dreams. Because we can't go back in time — yet!