Club members help students succeed

The Hispanic Organization Promoting Education (HOPE) is a club that participates in the usual activities Student Life hosts such as the Halloween carnival and fundraisers.

However, what sets this club apart is their involvement within inner city schools in the community, said Paul Burkhardt, HOPE sponsor and community outreach coordinator at OCCC.

A group of 12 students volunteer weekly for the mentorship program, he said.

“It’s a program where the students commit at least an hour a week. They commit to being there, and their position is pretty much just to listen, care, share, encourage …”

The students travel to Santa Fe South Middle School, Arbor Grove Elementary School, and some even go to high schools in the metro, Burkhardt said.

He said the students truly make a difference.

“A lot of first-generation students in the south side benefit by having actually a college student [who] can point them in the direction of how to get there.”

Burkhardt said he hears story after story from teachers and principals, giving positive reports of the students that once had negative reports.

Jhonnatan Gonzalez, HOPE member and management information systems major, is a mentor who has seen success.

“… I actually got an email from the professor thanking me, because [the student I mentor] was going to fail out. He was going to have to repeat. I’ve just been keeping up with him and he’s not going to have to repeat sixth grade now,” Gonzalez said.

Burkhardt said the schools allow the OCCC students to attend class with their mentees, which can produce a large difference in the mentee.

“They can help them grow in their classroom behavior … and sometimes just their presence changes that behavior,” he said.

HOPE members also sometimes become a major part of the students’ family life because of the weekly visit with the student.

“I’ve had students [who] have gotten so involved with the kids that they’ve been invited to their birthday parties and to other family get-togethers. They’re just considered one of the family.”

Chemistry major Amy Dominguez said she likes being able to help the students out with issues prominent in school today such as bullying.

“Personally, I’ve been through that and … the little girl I’m mentoring is going through a lot of that. I’m just there to support …” she said.

Oswaldo Orozco, physical therapy major, said one of his goals is to make students realize what they can do with an education.

“I want to make sure they realize they have a big opportunity here and to take advantage of it,” Orozco said.

Burkhardt said the students make a big difference.

“These students here at OCCC just come alongside, and we put them together with people. I trust them, and they trust where we’re taking them and what we’re doing with them,” he said.

“Some of the students have come away and said ‘Man, if I could be paid to do this all the time, I’d do it for the rest of my life,’” Burkhardt said.

Students are exposed to so many things they wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise. “If you get involved in it and fall in love with it, then you’re probably right where you need to be,” he said.

“So do I think kids should get involved in the lives of other kids? Yeah, just a whole lot.

“It can change lives.”

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