Kid-size sneakers parade the Auburn Public Library’s carpet floor as volunteers greet children with smiles as radiant as the setting sun seen by the windows, farewelling with flashes of pink and red — the same colors on the kids’ shoes.
The children are a part of Esperanza House, a non-profit organization aiming to help Hispanic families with education, mental health
On Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5 p.m., the organization holds an after-school program to help kids with their homework and catch up on how their week is going.
By 5:10 p.m., the volunteers, made up of Auburn students and teachers, intently sit with their buddies who sit crisscross with a pencil and a sheet of homework.
After seeing a flyer advertising a position to intern with the organization, she applied for it right away.
“I knew there was a Hispanic community in Auburn but wasn’t sure how to get involved, but when I saw the flyer, I got so excited,” Bartley said.
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Bartley got the internship, a chance to build fruitful relationships with local Hispanic families and many new responsibilities.
“A lot of emails, administration work, non-profit paperwork and time management problems made it difficult at first,” Bartley said. “But I love having the chance to nurture strengths in others and see them thrive.”
Once settling in, Bartley flourished. She looked forward to mentoring the children each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, she said, because of their engaging intelligence, so the volunteering
Hundreds of kids knew her name, and she knew theirs. But Esperanza’s outreach wasn’t always in the hundreds.
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Carolyn Fichtner is a board member for Esperanza House and recalls the days when the program had 15 kids and met at an apartment after cookouts and church.
Her Spanish may not be perfect, she said, but her commitment to improving the lives of Hispanic families in Auburn is a prolific one she aspires toward achieving with Esperanza House.
Each Thursday, Esperanza supplies dinner to the families, and each August, Fichtner and her friend, founder
In the summer, the organization funds several scholarships to older children so they can go to a summer camp.
Kevin Bonilla was given this opportunity last summer because of his excellent grades.
“The camp was really fun; we played games, made new friends,” Bonilla said. “It was great.”
The parents of kids like Bonilla are extremely involved, Fichtner said.
“They love their kids, they work hard and they want their kids to do well, and we try to help them as much as we can,” Fichtner said.
Fichter and Bartley said more volunteers would be a huge help, and that building lasting relationships, along with hugs and high-fives when walking in, makes the experience a joyful one.
“A few of the kids will come in early, so we’ll talk about their day, and it really reminds me how amazing it is to make connections with kids,” Bartley said.
At 6 p.m, the tutoring ends, but the giggling and smiles continue outside the library as the kids wait for their parents to pick them up and the volunteers keep them company.
Kids jolt around the grassy area with jamboree and games, warming the otherwise cool March afternoon. As the parents pick up their children, the volunteers high-five and hug them goodbye.
“When the kids are healthy and happy, it’s benefiting all of us,” Fichtner said. “The kids are happy — the community is happy.”
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