NEW Out Of The Mouth Of Babes

Leslie Gutierrez and family

Leslie Gutierrez answers the phone politely, but you can tell she really doesn’t have time. She’s the oldest of four, and a student of Duke Ellington School of the Arts in DC, and in charge on the afternoon she speaks with us. The conversation is, by turns, illuminating and funny.

Leslie is 15. Her siblings are Randolfo Campos, 12, Elias Campos 11, and one voluble Kassandra Campos, 8. Their mother, Geisy Ceberino was a NEW client who benefitted from New Endeavors by Women’s (NEW) New Horizons program. She couldn’t really take the time to talk because she is employed as a home health aide worker. It falls to Leslie to fill in why NEW, and the YEP! program (Youth Enrichment Program) in particular, has made a difference for the whole family.

The age ranges of the kids means one thing, which will come as no surprise to any parent—the need for childcare. And with that, the attention that comes from an adult—one on one, with each child.

Randolpho says that the people who helped through YEP!—Miss Shirley, Miss Z, Miss Jefferson, and Miss Harvey to name just a few—helped with homework, offered tutoring, and access to computers. “They helped me break things down. I don’t know if I would have gotten some of the work done, otherwise,” he says, adding that his grades improved as a result.

Kassandra meanwhile, is full of details as only a young child can be. “We do math, rainbow reading, and playing. And we have Internet there. Otherwise we have to hotspot at home,” she says with all the wisdom of a second grader. She proceeds to rattle off the name of many online teaching apps and tools that you realize children of better-off families do not have to hotspot to access, because they’re likely much higher on the plus side of the digital divide.

It’s not all about homework, though. The YEP! program gives the kids a place to learn all the things that happen by osmosis in a more stable home environment. As one of the teachers, Tyondra Jefferson puts it, “The children are very inquisitive ranging from aspirations about college, dining etiquette, cultural field trips, personal hygiene, cooking for siblings.” In other words, all the questions kids ask during the course of a day. It’s a place for the kids to just be and grow.

Another teacher, Shirley Tolbert says, “They ask everything under the sun, because they are children they have no buffers when it comes to questions. They ask me how old I am and since I am white they just recently asked me if I voted for Trump.The other night we were talking about minorities and trying to figure out the composition of our group, I asked them what made Ms. Jefferson and I minorities in the all male group, they asked was it because Ms. Jefferson and I were old. I cracked up, out of the mouth of babes.”

Most important, it’s a place to learn coping skills. As Tyondra puts it, “I come up with creative ways to teach in a manner that is fun and exciting from learning states and capitals at the playground to applying chess strategies to real life situations.”

Asked what they do when they’re not hitting the books, Kassandra says, “We help clean up, we play.” Then she intones, “We learn to treat others as you want others to treat you.” And what does that mean? “Be nice, fair, and kind. And you get what you get and you don’t get upset.”

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It’s been a challenging time for all of us as we adjust our days, our budgets and our expectations to COVID-19. And now, add a city and country grasping for footing after the death of an unarmed black man by a white police officer and we all feel even more out of control, unstable, and concerned about the future. Here at NEW we know that one way we can process our own feelings is to think about the needs and feelings of others.

We need you. The women need you. Your community needs you. Now more than ever women and children in DC need a safe and stable place to live.