"It's very helpful," said Nunez, who proudly boasts that her 3-year-old, who also went through the program, is now outperforming all the other children in her neighborhood. He's fluent in Spanish and English and loves learning so much he cries when she makes him stay home from preschool when sick.
For older children, the United Way and Salt Lake Community Action Program have teamed up with several school districts in the valley to build "community learning centers," where students can go for homework help and parents can get parenting tips and help learning English. The Boys & Girls Club provides tutoring, sports and a variety of other activities ranging from dance classes to arts instruction. The Food Bank pitches in, too, providing a hot dinner.
"It's awesome because there's like fun things," said Sipi Fifita, 13, who attends Glendale Middle School's evening program, over his sloppy-Joe dinner at the school last week. "Plus it gives me a place to stay when my parents aren't home. If I weren't here, I'd probably be like doing bad stuff."
At the Boys & Girls Club, Eric has found purpose once again. There are people on hand to answer his questions about homework, a quiet place to study and, he noted with a grin, a music-recording studio to aid him in filling his spare time. Since he started coming to the club at the beginning of this school year, Eric, who now sings in his high school choir, brought his grades from F's to B's.
"In a matter of weeks, this place has changed my life," he said.
Through its Teen Turnaround program, the club keeps track of kids' academics, provides resources to prepare for college entrance exams and helps them apply for scholarships. With the encouragement of his mentors, Eric said, he's thinking about college again.
College. That's the other thing that makes the big teen cry.
Walking out of his mentor's office at the Boys & Girls Club recently, he paused to stroke, lovingly, the silky folds of the graduation gown hanging on the door.
"I'm going to be wearing that one day," he said. His eyes glistened with tears of hope.
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