At the 2019 California Afterschool & Summer Challenge, LA’s BEST alum, Wendy Ruiz, spoke to a crowd of over 200 people about the importance of afterschool. As someone who benefited from the sanctuary of afterschool growing up and is currently a parent of two, Wendy has benefited from these programs both in the past and in the present. Individuals like Wendy are real life examples of why afterschool is so essential and why it’s vital that we continue to advocate for these programs.
You can find the transcript of her speech below:
Good morning beautiful change-makers, my name is Wendy Ruiz, and it is my deepest honor to be with you today. I am proud to stand before you as a product of sound policy and community investment through afterschool programs.
I grew up in the most dangerous one-mile radius in Los Angeles in the 90’s. With my mother having passed and my father working, my siblings and I were left alone. Walking to school or walking home meant taking my life in my hands. At the time, little hands at the mercy of raging gang violence. During my elementary school age, funerals were a regular function.
Through LA’s BEST Afterschool Program, I learned real world skills. The snack they taught me to make in cooking class, became the dinner I made for my siblings that night. While kids my age were left to hang out and become entrenched in unlawful activity, or becoming the victims of it, I was at my afterschool program.
This is why afterschool means so much to me – being in an afterschool program introduced me to a world I never knew. I was given the gift of choice. I was encouraged and I was believed in. My afterschool program taught me to be resilient and I am forever grateful for the quality of the life I live because of this.
I am now a parent, and I depend on my afterschool program for my two daughters. My husband and I both need to work full time to provide for our family. We don’t have the luxury of picking our kids up when school gets out. It means the world that we know they are safe and cared for at their afterschool program. And we’re not alone – 98% of parents surveyed agree that they are able to keep their job because of their afterschool program.
My daughters are thriving as they participate in softball, robotics, dance & drill, science club and so much more. These activities teach them important skills, build their confidence, and give them access to opportunities they would not have without their afterschool program. My children don’t quite understand all the benefits they get from being in their afterschool program- all they know is that they love their teachers and their activities. They are motivated to get through their school day because once the bell rings- they know they have their afterschool programming. Their school day is not complete without afterschool. To my daughters, afterschool is not something that happens “after school,” to them this is what completes their school day.
I agree. Afterschool is not something extra – it’s a fundamental need that all children should have access to.
All of us here today – afterschool alumni and staff, parents, students, and legislators that support afterschool programs – Thank you! Our children don’t just need afterschool, they deserve it.
I have met some incredible young afterschool students that are here with us today- you guys are amazing. You are poised, intelligent, well-spoken, and value your education through afterschool programs. You are the reason we are here. You are everything we are working for all children to have the opportunity to become. I know we are in good hands because legislators will hear from you today.