YES House volunteers mentor students of Humboldt

By Hector Arzate
Flapjack staff

While most students at Humboldt State University are in class, learning at two in the afternoon on weekdays, volunteers for Study Buddies can be found doing some of the teaching at local schools in Humboldt county.

Study Buddies, formerly known as Tutorial, is one of 15 volunteer programs at the Youth Educational Services. Each of these programs serves a different community population in Humboldt County.

Started in 1969, Study Buddies is the oldest volunteer program at HSU, and provides youth tutoring and mentoring for local elementary school students around Arcata and Eureka. Jorge Reyes, 20, criminology and justice studies major, serves as the current program director and works to keep it running effectively.

“I facilitate the weekly meetings and workshop at the YES House on Thursday evenings from 6-7pm,” Reyes said. “I tend to keep my meetings structured informally because I want HSU student volunteers to engage in a comfortable setting that would translate into the close bond that we share with each other as volunteers of the community.” 

Originally a volunteer for a different program, Reyes’ intent was to complete the service learning component of a class three semesters ago, but he found more than academic credit at YES.

“I joined Study Buddies last semester to build my mentoring and tutoring skills with young, local elementary school students in Arcata and Eureka,” Reyes said. “I didn’t realize my path would lead me to where I am today as director for Study Buddies.”

As program director, Reyes describes Study Buddies’ service as an effort to provide those local students who are least likely to afford tutoring services with tutors who focus on the their needs to promote a healthy confidence boost in their learning experience.

“Getting involved with the Y.E.S. House and becoming a club director have amplified the activist sentiment to replacing old, worn out class materials and expanding select schools that we currently provide tutoring services,” Reyes said. “I am grateful for the dedicated volunteers that I currently have with me this semester because we share a common goal together here, and I am humbled to be a director for the longest active club at Y.E.S. The message has echoed for nearly 50 years now, and we are here to continue that echo for the future ahead.”

The experience has been equally rewarding for the program volunteers. Emily Policarpo, 20, anthropology major, felt that she has been able to provide a well-rounded educational experience for a range of the local youth.

“Study Buddies is able to offer different schools and age groups, from 4 to 12,” Policarpo said. “The majority of the focus is on homework days and tutoring, but there are also science Fridays where volunteers can come up with science activities to do with the kids.”

With low literacy and graduation rates throughout Humboldt County, it’s an important resource for the local community. Reyes expressed the deep impacts that access to education, or a lack thereof, can have on the youth and their future.

“Education is a crucial deal breaker for survival, for several reasons,” Reyes said. “For starters, we can at least acknowledge and agree that our level of knowledge depends on the quality of education that we receive. Brand new textbooks, safe classrooms, caring teachers, tutoring services, technological devices that are the newest up-to-date products the market has to offer for educational purposes. You’d imagine that a student’s possibility to fail would be slim and even if they did, the tutoring program would essentially provide a safety net for the student to bounce back from receiving a bad grade.”

However, Reyes also expressed that this is not the reality for most public schools, especially those within poor and rural communities like Humboldt County. Instead, they most often have little to no access to those resources.

“Now picture the opposite of what I described,” Reyes said. “Torn and used up textbooks, classrooms that are potential health hazards to children, careless teachers, no tutoring services, and technology devices that are older than the children themselves. This is the sour reality that many adults and youth have lived and continue to experience when attending schools in their local community.”

For student volunteers like Demi Cortez, 20, social work major, understanding systemic oppression and a generational lack of access to academic resources is crucial for being an effective tutor.

“He [Reyes] also breaks down ideas really well so that we can all understand them with a deeper meaning,” Cortez said. “For example, he once broke us up into two groups and had us each read a children’s story and then make an illustration that we thought captured the theme. Though most of us didn’t notice, one group was always at a disadvantage, their book was worn out, their paper was torn, they had less coloring supplies, etc. He then pointed out how these little things affected that group’s performance level, much like the way kids are affected when they attend an underprivileged school. I think that was much more effective than if he were to have just told us that some kids have it worse than others.”

Despite the disadvantages their students face, volunteers feel motivated to continue working with the children and making a difference. Under Reyes’ leadership, Study Buddies volunteers continue to draw inspiration from his enthusiasm for social change and education.

“He cares so much about it and his passion is contagious,” Cortez said. “All of the activities and group exercises are so well thought out, you really see how much effort he puts into them. It makes us all care too.”

Above all, Reyes feels that we all should work to change the narrative and change the lives of those students by working with them to find academic autonomy and encouragement from their community and within.

“Knowledge is power,” Reyes said. “We want these young local students to know that we are here for them. We care for their potential to reach academic success and we will continue to encourage them to solve homework problems and grow self-confidence… one fraction problem at a time.”

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Helping refugees adapt to U.S.

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By Christine Ledman
Flapjack staff

Megan Schmidt arrives at work each day to a parking lot of over 50 cars containing refugees from around the world awaiting her assistance. Schmidt, a 30-something, is the Health Education/Workforce Development Coordinator at the Refugee RISE Americorps (RISE) in Iowa City, Iowa.

“I have always had a desire to travel and help people,” said Schmidt.
The RISE program operates under the IC Compassion program which is managed by Executive Director Teresa Stecker. In the past refugees were only provided with immigration legal support by volunteer immigration lawyers like Sue Kirk. It was obvious the needs of the refugees were much greater.

“Before the RISE program many of our refugee families were lost in how to live here in the United States and scared,” said Stecker. “The addition of the RISE program has added the needed path to assimilation with language training, and basic skills training which are absolutely needed to thrive here.

“Megan is a ray of sunshine and the refugee population are very appreciative of the support she gives them,” she said.

The refugee population is growing rapidly in Iowa City with estimates of up to 10,000 or more from Sudan, Congo, Somalia, and many other countries.

Schmidt served in the Zigong China for the Peace Corp from 2007 to 2009. During her tour in China she also met her husband. After returning to the United States for two years Schmidt and her new husband moved to Cali Columbia where she led an 8th grade English Department. After four years in Columbia the Schmidt’s made the decision to return to the United States and continue their educations. Schmidt is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Public Health. Seven months ago she began her position with the AmeriCorps Vista Rise program.
“We loved living in both China and Columbia but we missed our families and felt we needed to return home,” she said.
Services that are provided to refugees via the RISE program are English as a second language classes, one on one computer training classes, classes to prepare refugees to take the citizenship test, personal finance, and general advocacy such as helping them to find housing and work and general emotional support.

“Many of our refugees are so happy to be here and very appreciative of the one on one service that we provide them and some have returned to us to be volunteers,” she said.

Schmidt explained when refugees are accepted into the United States they initially are assigned primary centers. These centers are non-profit organizations around the country that work with the refugees for ninety days. In this time, they supply temporary housing, clothing, provide classes on United States culture, and English if necessary. After this ninety day period the refugees are basically on their own. Many move to cities that have secondary centers. These centers already have refugees in the area and some type of assistance such as the RISE program.

“It is now that the refugees are struck by how hard it is to live in the United States,” said Schmidt. “There is little if any financial support and finding a job can be very difficult for them.”

Schmidt indicated that working with women and young girls presented the most emotional situations that she had to deal with.

“Many of the women and young girls who come here are victims of violent sexual assaults and finding support for them in their native language is extremely challenging,” said Schmidt.

The majority of the refugees Schmidt works with speak French, Arabic, and several other languages including Zulu. Schmidt is fortunate to have many volunteers from within the refugee community and local volunteers who speak these languages.

There are several situations where not all the family members could afford to leave or were not selected from the camps for a variety of reasons. The families that Schmidt helps are particularly concerned about females left behind, knowing the danger they are in. If the families can raise the necessary money to get them here in order to file for asylum it can speed the process up by several years. The problem is, it can cost up to $15,000 per person to make this happen.

“Unfortunately, because I work for the Federal Government I am not allowed to offer any thoughts on the recently signed executive order on travel restriction,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt also spoke of how difficult adapting to the cultural differences can be for these refugees. Some of them have been in refugee camps for over ten years. Most seem to be comfortable with basic cell phones, but the concept of using the computer for everything such as applying for jobs, taking tests, searching for resources is a daunting task for them.

“There were culture classes at my refugee camp, but once I saw my name on the list to go to the United States all I could think about was my new life and I didn’t understand the importance of what they were teaching us,” said a refugee who asked to be identified as Mally.

A more recent offering of RISE is family matching. RISE is attempting to match local Iowa City families with refugee families of a similar make-up. Mally who is a single mother with three elementary school aged children was matched with a local family. Her match family assisted Mally in getting her children registered for school, signed up for soccer, and realizing the importance of girls going to school.

Schmidt is very excited about this program. The matching families reach out to the refugee families weekly and visit them monthly. This continuity of support is something that Schmidt’s team does not have the resources to do.

“We are in the position to help anyone that comes to us, but if they don’t show up they are on their own and we can only hope that they are doing fine,” said Schmidt.

Many of the refugees are nervous about seeking help especially with needed legal assistance.

“I have noticed that clients who have worked with RISE are more confident when seeking assistance and this confidence is of real value when they are in immigration court seeking extended legal status,” said Kirk.

Schmidt said that every day, every hour brings a new and challenging situation to her desk.

“When I leave at night I am usually exhausted and have the feeling I haven’t done enough to help these people, which is what drives me to come back tomorrow to help again,” said Schmidt.

Jaye Washington jumps for greatness at Humboldt State

By Nicholas Vasquez
Flapjack staff

Jaye Washington is from Torrance, California, a small beach town in Southern California that is approximately 40 minutes away from Los Angeles.  Instead of being loud and instilling his confidence through his words, he chooses to do it with his actions.  Being a Division II athlete of any sort is definitely something that is worth bragging about, and Washington prefers to take the high road, which says a lot about him as a person.

A lot of football players coming into high school have their minds set on being under the bright lights of a Division I football stadium, but many do not realize their limitations until it is too late.  They think that football is the only chance they have to get away, and as a freshman, Washington had this on his mind.

“When I was a freshman, I was football motivated,” he said.  “My main sport was football.”

Going into high school track and field was an afterthought for him; but that would change.  Washington started running track in the spring of his freshman year at North Torrance High School in order to stay in shape and better himself for football.  Little did he know, track would become his niche not very long after.  In about a year after joining the track team, he was placed on the varsity squad as a sophomore, and he never looked back from there.

“I started running track my freshman year just to stay in shape,” he said.  “But towards my sophomore year I started making strides and ended up making varsity.”

Washington is an all-around athlete, as he played two sports during his time in high school and was versatile in both.  He played running back and wide receiver in football, and in track he participated in the long jump and the triple jump.  He has a long list of accolades in high school: 4th place at the Redondo Nike Invitational in 2014, 3rd place in the triple jump at the South Bay Championships in 2014, 2nd in long jump and 1st in triple jump at the Pioneer League Finals in 2014, 4th in long jump at the Louis Zamperini Meet in 2016, and 5th in long jump and 1st in triple jump at the South Bay Championships in 2016.  The 19-year-old is not complacent with these accomplishments, however, as he looks to make his mark at HSU and add to an already impressive legacy. 

“My main goal at HSU is to break the triple jump record,” Washington said.  “I feel that if I continue to work hard and get extra work in, I have the opportunity to do it.”

Even then, he thought that track was just a cool sport to be good at, and he had not really thought about pursuing it at the collegiate level.  This mindset is not uncommon, as track and field definitely does not possess the glamour or flash that football has, not only in high school but at the collegiate level as well.  As a result, many high school student athletes over pursue football over the sport that they are just as good at (or even better at in some cases), track and field. 

Track and field is not a contact sport, making size an unimportant component in it.  Washington realized this towards the end of his high school career, as he started to perform better in track than he was in football, which caused him to think about the bigger picture and realize what his true calling was.  Washington’s close friend and teammate, Mario Simpson, took notice to this as their high school careers progressed.

“Jaye was always a solid football player,” Simpson said.  “But around our junior year I realized how good he was on the track.”

Simpson continued to explain how amazed he was with his buddy’s performance in track.

“I always knew Jaye was athletic,” he said.  “But when I saw him on that track for the first time, I was thinking to myself, “Damn, that boy can move.””

Simpson is not the only person who noticed this talent, as he started to get recruited for track and field during his senior season.  Humboldt State saw his talent, and the rest is history.

“Humboldt State has a great track and field program,” Washington said.  “They are giving me the opportunity to succeed and I really appreciate that.”

Washington’s teammates have been noticing how his diligent work during and even before and after practice has taken his craft to the next level. 

Fellow teammate Parker Irusta in particular has seen a big improvement from him.

“Jaye has been a huge asset to our team,” Irusta said.  “He is a monster on the track, but it is his work before and after practice that really sets him apart from other people in his event.”

Work ethic is a big priority for Washington, on the track and off.  He is not just going to college for athletics, as he is also looking to obtain a degree in Kinesiology.  He says that as an athlete, he is interested in becoming a personal trainer in order to be able to work with athletes once he finally hangs up his spikes.

“Track is obviously a big priority for me at this point in my life,” he said.  “But I need to have a backup plan and be prepared for when I am not going to be able to perform any more, so I want to continue to work in the field of sports in a different aspect.”

Chigi Anderson beats odds playing high school football

By Uche Anusiem
Flapjack staff

It is only a select few who get the chance to extend their football careers, and current junior at Sonora High School Chigi Anderson, 17, is trying to be in that select group of football players who get a chance to play at the collegiate level.

“Ever since I was a freshman I’ve always wanted to earn a scholarship to play college football, cause it just means that I’m another step closer to my dream of make it to the NFL,” said Anderson.

Anderson is 6’2 and weighs 185 pounds. He’s a junior with one more year of high school ball to play left and is very driven and focused. Earning All-League honors and currently being recruited by various universities, he is one of the most talented players in his conference. During another interview with Anderson’s football teammate, current junior also at Sonora High School, Robert Hernandez, 17, credited Anderson for his talent and value to the team.

“Honestly, he’s like our best player,” Hernandez said. “And sometimes it like we don’t know what we would do without him. I’m just happy he’s on our team because no one wants to have to play against him.”

Located in Orange County, Southern California, Sonora High is one of the smaller high schools in County.  Anderson described the struggles of trying to gain recognition at a smaller known school compared to other power house programs around the area.

“I think it’s definitely harder to gain recognition when you play at smaller school, like those were some of the things I was worried about when I first came here,” he said. “But I just knew I had to pray and work hard.”

Anderson works out and practices five days a week, Monday through Friday, while also playing on an offseason travel team on weekends. The team plays against other skilled athletes and travel to different parts of California and even different states as it they get opportunities to meet college scouts and gain more recruiting interest.

With such a busy schedule at only 17 years old, what does he do in his free time?

“Homework and sleep,” Anderson said. “And if I’m lucky get chance to get some Madden or 2k(video games) in. It’s like a nonstop grind, it never ends. But honestly I like it this way because I’d rather be busy, plus I’m working toward something you know?”

Anderson’s older brother is a Cal State Fullerton science major, Andy Anderson, 23.

“He’s been playing football since he was a little boy, from like around 7 or 8 years old,” Andy Anderson said. “He’s always liked playing football, probably cause he’s real good at it too. And I salute cause I know Chigi works hard.”

Chigi Anderson had a good season last fall but his team did not. Does he think that team success affects an individual’s recruitment process?

“Honestly we had a bad year team-wise,” he said. “I think we only won 1 game this season. Yup we went 1-9 this season, it was all bad man.”

A winning team attracts scouts looking for talented players.

“I feel like team success does affect a player’s recruitment to an extent,” he said. “Because people don’t talk about teams that always lose. They talk about the winners, and obviously if a team is winning a lot of games there’s probably a high chance that they have more talented players, bringing more interest from scouts.”

One of Anderson’s football coaches Dustin Stafford, 26, is the current assistant coach for the Sonora Raiders. Stafford agreed that Anderson is a valuable player.

“He’s definitely one of the better players we have on the team, and he proves it every game,” Stafford said. “The kid is a special talent and he’s only getting better. Even though we had a poor season, He was still able to continuously make plays for the team when needed.”

Turns out that playing at one of the smaller high schools on a losing team has not stopped Anderson. He currently holds two football scholarship offers from University of Wyoming and University of Las Vegas Nevada. He is still being recruited by multiple schools and awaiting offers from schools, including UCLA, University of Washington and the University of Utah.

Being recognized and recruited by such prestigious schools feels good, Anderson said, and it is a step in the right direction.

“It feels good to get what you work so hard for,” Anderson said. “And what makes it better is it only makes me closer to my dreams of one day playing in the NFL. I just have to keep working.”

Trimming in the hills of Humboldt

By Jordan Colombo
Flapjack staff

Vanessa Rau is a 22-year-old German girl who graduated from Duisburg-Essen University in Duisburg Germany. With her mother living in Germany and her father living in Vancouver Canada she has had duel citizenship. Rau often frequents visits to Humboldt county to work on “The Hill” to make some money. However, Rau stopped after a friend of hers almost died from an overdose.

Rau graduated college and with a bachelor’s in sociology then moved in with her father to get away from her life in Germany.

“Life was good in Germany,” Rau said. “But the people are a bit the same and I wanted something better and more fulfilling in my life.”

When she had gotten to Vancouver, she started meeting people and found a job working at a bar in the Gastown area of downtown. She had met a few regulars that she would talk with about going to Humboldt county to trim weed on “The Hill.” At first she was skeptical of it, then the job eventually sounded better. Rau knew, at the time, that growing marijuana and trimming it were illegal in California. After some convincing by her new friends she has took her opportunity to go on the endeavor.

Rau took a few weeks off from work telling her boss that she wanted to go see her mother whom she had not see quite some time now. Her boss understood that it must be hard to be so far away from home for the first time. Now with no work for two weeks, Rau took the 12-hour drive to Arcata, California, in September, where she would be living with her friends in a van.

“I was very skeptical at first, but began to relax once we figured out a way to make the van more comfortable,” Rau said.

Humboldt County has a large marijuana growing industry because of its vast forestry and its perfect climate. However, illegal growers have done a lot of detrimental damage to the forest. The growers can drain lakes that provide water to local animals and drain the land of its nutrients. Local law enforcement are constantly flying helicopters over the redwood forest to find spots that growers can be found, by looking for openings where plant life looks organized and having see through sheds near them. Then they send the ground troops to further investigate where they can find signs of growing with large pumps leading to lakes near by rivers.

When Rau arrived in Arcata it had reminded her a bit of Vancouver a bit because of all the transients that are hanging around.

“Vancouver has a huge homeless problem,” Rau said. “Most of Canada is cold, so the homeless come to Vancouver because it is the warmest place for them to go.”

She acclimated to the lifestyle of Humboldt County very fast. When her first day of work had come she was nervous because it was a long drive from Arcata to”The Hill” where she was working. She had taken many turns and many dirt roads.

“The roads were so small you could not fit two cars coming from opposite directions,” she said. “The trees sheltered the road from the sun giving this whole ride an ominous look.”

When Rau arrived on “The Hill” there was an open field with a small trailer on it and a makeshift shed that was close to the trailer. In the shed there were people working at a table while another man stood behind them just watching making sure that no one steals.

“I remember watching movies about drug dealers where there are guns everywhere, but this was nothing of the sort,” Rau explained. Inside the trailer was a kitchen as well as some plants hanging around.

Laura Trudladu, a 24-year-old from Tübingen, Germany, is now an Arcata resident living in a grow house.

“I met Vanessa a few times,” Trudladu said. “She would come down our driveway in a van full of people from all over the world.”

Trudladu said that she has met people from everywhere living in a grow house and was nice to meet Rau because she actually got to speak her native tongue.

The man that was watching over the others had explained to Rau that she was to trim the marijuana leaves as close to the bud as she could and then throw this into a bucket. She was instructed to not throw her buds into anyone else’s bucket. Because workers were paid by total weight of the trimmed marijuana, such contributions would benefit the other person who owned the bucket.

When it was time to pay Rau, the person watching her would take her total trimmed bucket, weigh a bucket that was the same, but empty to zero out the weight, than would weigh the bucket full of marijuana and take the total weight divide it by a pound in grams (454) then times it by 100. The first time she worked she had worked over 25 hours, but only was able to produce three pounds of trimmed marijuana, which turned out to be $300. The longer she did it the better she got at sitting there longer and being able to trim faster.

Rau would continue to travel back and forward from Vancouver to Arcata to keep working on “The Hill” for a few more years until she realized that doing this type of work was not for her.

“It was fun at first, but it got tiring and I saw some friends got hurt,” Rau explained. She said that some employers would provide you with cocaine to keep you awake and keep you working longer. What made her quit working was that one time her friend was dropped off near a place they were staying at with a nose bleeding and twitching a bit from too much cocaine.

Alden Haro, who had been working on “The Hill” for five years, had also been with the friend that got dropped off.

“It was the scariest thing I had ever experienced,” Haro said. “I thought I was about to lose one of my best friend.”

After that, Rau never went back to work on “The Hill” but she still frequents Arcata often.

“Arcata is a beautiful town with beautiful people that has so many secrets in the town and in the trees,” she said.