Laura Reagan-Porras

Part of staff development at the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen (BGCM) is to review youth development strategies and share success stories. We often find our best mentors are those youth development professionals that remember who influenced them when they were growing up. In a recent staff meeting, I asked our administrative team of unit directors and school site managers to share stories of who mentored them or who they admired when they were growing up. Dina Peña, our Alton Unit Director shared the following stories and insights.

“The question of who inspired me got me thinking of so many people both in and out of our organization; however, after careful consideration my first day at the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen came to mind. When I applied to work at the club, I thought I wanted to go into teaching someday and working at the club would help me test the waters to see it was what I really wanted to do. That first day was nearly my last day.

I was in the library at the Brand Center with more 6 and 7 year olds than I have ever encountered. There was one girl in particular in pink stained jeans and tangled long hair named Sara. The only way I can describe her was she was bouncing off the walls. The struggle began to experiment with gaining control of the class and get them to follow directions with one exception — Sara.

Through the next few weeks I saw her go from boy trouble, (yes, believe it or not a 7 years old she was talking about boys) to problems fighting with her sister Nicole. Every day was a struggle with Sara and it came as no surprise to me that she reported that she was going to have to go to summer school because of failing grades. But over the weeks that I got to know Sara, we worked on her homework together during our Power Hour (homework/ tutoring hour), even though it was late in the year, I saw her study habits improve. Through it all, Sara was practically a fixture at the club.

Even though I moved onto another unit, I was invited back to the Brand Center for our Father’s Day Celebration it was Sara, who screamed DINA from across the gym. It was Sara helping me make macaroni and cheese, telling me how she likes school and that one day she’s gonna show the world. It was sad to see her dad on the cell phone most of the night but he made the effort and came to the event. But more than anything I was amazed how much she had changed.

Another story came to mind when I was thinking about who had been my mentor. It was Juanita’s story. Juanita is a teen that has driven more than one BGCM mentor to give up. We started a group for girls called Smart Girls that focuses on healthy habits for girls. After our meetings did Hip Hop Abs workouts. We did a long workout and as the girls drank water we talked about what was going on in their lives. We talked about boys, the value of respecting ourselves and other themes in Smart Girls. I saw Juanita confidently pose for pictures, dress up for parties and even have a respectful friendship with a boy she met at the swimming pool.

Challenged by our Executive Director to think about who influenced me when I was growing up, I could have picked a mentor from numerous teachers, great parents, and people I admire within our organization, but my mentors are my kids, our kids. They have changed me into the best possible version of myself almost magically with a simple shout out of DINA from across the gym.”