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Alumni call club key to success (w/video)

By Carolina Astrain
Feb. 12, 2014 at 11 p.m.
Updated Feb. 11, 2014 at 8:12 p.m.

Gilbert Ramon, 43, of Victoria, center, talks with children  at a Victoria Boys and Girls Club after-school program in Victoria. "There's no doubt that this is a foundation for success," Ramon said, who joined the Boys and Girls Club when he was 8 years old at the old location on Pine Street in Victoria.

CONTEST WINNER

In anticipation of Wes Moore's appearance as part of the Victoria College Lyceum Lecture Series, we asked a few of our readers to enter a 100-word essay contest describing the biggest turning point in their lives.

FIRST-PLACE WINNER

Name: Alexxis Carrizales

Age: 17

Grade: 11th

School: Victoria West High School

Essay:

The biggest turning point in my life was going back to school. In 2010, I had moved to a new city, and it was my freshman year of high school. I was new, and I did not know anyone, and I hated that. I ended up dropping out of school. I was called names like "lowlife" and "nobody." Those names pushed me to go back to school and change things. I went back to school and stayed for good. Next year, I will be the first in my family to graduate high school with a diploma. I will become a "somebody," and that is important to me.

Life aspirations:

"I plan on going to college at the University of Houston-Downtown and studying to become a nurse. I want to become a neonatal nurse at Texas Children's Hospital."

SECOND-PLACE WINNER

Name: Bianca Coronado

Age: 15

Grade: 10th

School: Victoria West High School

Essay:

When I was 9 years old, my mother went to work; however, she never came back. Worried, my father and I went looking for her. After calling her cellphone many times, she finally turned it off. The next day, my mother called us and said she was never coming back. Not believing it, I kept asking when she would be back. She never gave an answer to me and just yelled and screamed at me for asking. To this day, I must cook, clean and help my brother and sister with homework and stay up late getting ready for the next day. Even so, this turning point has made me who I am today.

Life aspirations: "After graduating from high school, I plan to complete my basics at the University of Houston-Victoria and transfer to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi to complete a bachelor's degree in nursing."

THIRD-PLACE WINNER

Name: Devon Childs

Age: 17

Grade: 11th

School: Victoria West High School

Essay:

Since the age of 7, I have lived with my grandma because I wasn't allowed to stay with my parents. My grandma raised me, bought me school clothes, food and everything else. On June 1, 2011, my life took the biggest turning point it has ever taken ... my Grandma passed away. Because my Grandma was like my mother, I think I officially grew up that day. I knew I would have to start taking responsibility on my own because from that day on, I'd have to raise myself.

Life aspirations: "My aspirations are to graduate high school and attend the Baylor College of Medicine to study psychiatry."

IF YOU GO

•  WHAT: Wes Moore, Lyceum Lecture Series

•  WHEN: Noon Thursday

•  WHERE: VISD Fine Arts Center, 1002 Sam Houston Drive

• COST: Free

TO GET INVOLVED

Here are a few youth-serving organizations in our region:

SOCIAL SERVICES

• Bluebonnet Youth Ranch: a nonprofit organization committed to providing a safe, loving home and secure future for dependent children who have been abused and neglected.

• YMCA: enables kids to realize their potential, prepares teens for college and offers ways for families to have fun together; empowers people to be healthier in spirit, mind and body; prepares people for employment and helps foster a nationwide service ethic.

• Devereux Texas: is pioneering a contemporary continuum of care for children and adults requiring mental health services.

• Mid-Coast Family Services: nonprofit organization that actively works to eliminate family violence, homelessness and substance abuse.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

• 4-H: empowers youth to reach their full potential, working and learning in partnership with caring adults.

• Boys and Girls Club of America: programs and services promote and enhance the development of boys and girls by instilling a sense of competence, usefulness, belonging and influence.

• Boys Scouts of America: provides a program for young people that builds character, trains them in the responsibilities of citizenship and develops their personal fitness.

• Girl Scouts of America: builds girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place through a myriad of enriching experiences.

• United Way: mobilizes millions to action - to give, advocate, and volunteer - to improve the conditions in which they live.

ADVOCACY

• Court Appointed Special Advocates: recruits, trains and supports volunteers to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom and other settings.

EDUCATION

• Victoria Business and Education Coalition: works to increase the educational attainment level of the region and addresses the essential need for adult and business involvement with the education community.

• Communities in Schools: works within the public school system, determining student needs and establishing relationships with local businesses, social service agencies, health care providers and parent and volunteer organizations to provide needed resources.

Arielle Orsak colored in a Valentine's Day card for her teacher Wednesday afternoon at the Boys and Girls Club of Victoria.

Arielle, 9, and 149 other club members went from room to room playing pool, pingpong and working on homework as part of a youth program that Gilbert Ramon remembers being a vital part of his life.

"Everyone is really nice and helps us with our homework," said Arielle, a third-grade Victoria school district student. "Everybody always has a smile on their faces."

Ramon, 43, was a member of the at-risk youth organization when it was on Pine Street before moving to its present location at 202 Hopkins St.

"I'm never going to forget my roots," Ramon said. "Never."

Wes Moore, a military veteran and former White House fellow, is speaking at the VISD Fine Arts Center as part of Victoria College's Lyceum Lecture Series on Thursday about the importance of supporting at-risk youth and developing mentors early in life.

Ramon, who has been reading some of Moore's book, "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates," said the message the author is spreading rings true to the mission at the Boys and Girls Club of Victoria.

"He writes about the importance of developing role models at an early age," Ramon said. "After seeing what he (Moore) was able to accomplish - it's incredible."

Ramon, who is also a member of Habitat for Humanity's Youth Development Leadership Program, said being a member of the Boys and Girls Club of Victoria gave him an edge when he entered the military.

"I already knew how to work with a diverse group of people," Ramon said. "There is no doubt that this is a foundation for success."

Boys and Girls Club of Victoria Executive Director Marc Hinojosa said he hopes to see the center attract older students with the addition of a weight room.

Since he began as the center's director in July 2012, Hinojosa has worked with University of Houston-Victoria and Victoria College students to work as mentors while earning work study credits.

"Because they're closer to the members' ages, I think they're able to relate to them a little bit better," Hinojosa, 53, said. "Most of the kids from the university are from out of town, so this is also a learning process for them as well."

The organization's 2012-13 operating budget was $235,000, Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa, who was also active in the Boys and Girls Club of Victoria as a youth, said he's noticed that there's been a change in the family structure.

"It used to be a lot stronger when Ramon and I were kids," Hinojosa said. "Nowadays, we've become more critical of an organization because most kids here come from a single-parent home or are raised by their grandparents."

Throughout the year, the center services 450 youths from seven Victoria school district campuses - Hopkins, F.W. Gross, Dudley, O'Connor, Torres, Patti Welder and Stroman, Hinojosa said.

"We just received a grant for an additional bus," Hinojosa said. "But we're hoping to get some more support."

The students the organization helps are predominately Hispanic.

Ramon said although there are more Hispanics in leadership positions across the country, there's room for improvement.

"We still have a long way to go," Ramon said. "I'd like to see one of our Hispanic veterans hold a political office someday."

Nathan Perez, a Hopkins Elementary School third-grader, said he enjoys coming to the center after school because he gets to socialize and make friends.

This is Nathan's third year in the program.

"We play dodgeball, play pingpong and pool," Perez, 9, said. "I'd probably be outside walking around or playing video games at home if I weren't here."

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