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Shy No More: How an Introverted Child Went On To Major In Communications - LA Weekly

Growing up in South Central often means going without the privileges enjoyed by some. As one of the most under-resourced communities in the United States, young adults from this neighborhood face unfair disadvantages when compared to their peers. 

As a young woman living in this community, Michelle Garcia was lucky to be raised in a home with a loving family, but outside those familiar four walls she was timid and distrustful of even the kindest of interactions. Overrun, understaffed and wrought with budget cuts, elementary schools in the area did not have the resources to help her grow. 

With everything Michelle faced, the future was worrisome. That was until A Place Called Home opened their arms to her. 

Seeing how A Place Called Home benefited her older sister, Michelle’s mom signed her up for the program at 8-years-old, hoping to bring her daughter out of her shell and provide the additional guidance that she lacked at school. 

Starting off, Michelle was very shy — refusing to talk to anyone and often spending most of the day alone and in tears. Then, she discovered A Place Called Home’s reading room and the dedicated, patient staff that worked there. Michelle found a new home among the books and a new friend in a smiling counselor. From there, her world blossomed. 

Michelle Garcia (Courtesy of A Place Called Home)

Learning to advocate for herself, this sweet young woman became a willing and eager participant in many of the programs offered by A Place Called Home. She excelled as a volunteer youth ambassador for the organization, followed in her older sister’s footsteps and participated in their GirlPower leadership program for three consecutive years, and interned in the agency’s Development Department during high school. 

For Michelle, the possibilities are endless thanks to the support of A Place Called Home. Through them, she was able to discover a love of learning within herself, taking her educational and personal goals to new heights. 

“I’m very grateful I was able to be a part of it. It was just kind of a second home,” says Michelle.

Established in 1993 as a safe haven for gang-affected youth, A Place Called Home (APCH) is a nurturing environment dedicated to serving the youth in the South Central zip code. For students like Michelle, growing up in South Central means facing great adversity and steep odds, with most families living well below the poverty line. APCH and its dedicated staff work tirelessly to give kids opportunities beyond the life-threatening dangers and temptations of the streets by encouraging their natural skills and intelligence through learning, activities and career-placement opportunities. 

APCH provides more than 1,000 young people and their families with safety, support, and opportunities. Working with youth ages 8 to mid-20s, the organization ensures that kids are raised up to their full potential. It’s also not just for children, APCH provides more than 100 college students with the financial support and counseling needed to achieve their goals. 

It was through this financial support that Michelle’s life was forever changed. 

Receiving help every step of the way from APCH’s devoted staff, Michelle applied for their prestigious Shaheen Scholarship, hoping to achieve her dream of attending a four-year university. An expense that can be daunting for South Central families. 

She got it. 

Not only did receiving the scholarship help her achieve her dream of attending Cal State Fullerton, but it provided her with the funds needed to live on campus and enjoy the quintessential college life that is rare for many in her community. 

(Courtesy of A Place Called Home)

Before APCH, Michelle had trouble trusting and talking to anyone outside of her family. After APCH, Michelle is a thriving college student majoring in Communications. She hopes to minor in something that will allow her to make a difference in the lives of children the way the counselors at APCH made a difference in her life so many years ago. 

Dr. Lucretia Taylor, the program director for Teen & Young Adult Services at A Place Called Home, describes the organization as a place that can serve anyone in their community. From high-achieving students to young people struggling to stay in school because of homelessness or incarceration, they are a support system open to all those who need it. 

“Anyone with a desire to make something more of their life,” describes Dr. Taylor. 

Having been with APCH for over eight years, she has seen their reach grow exponentially within their community. 

“This place is magical,” she says. “Almost anything can happen here.”

The magic she describes is made possible through the empowerment of one of their community partners, Capital One. 

Capital One is on a mission to change banking for good by tuning into the needs of the neighborhoods they service. By bringing humanity to banking, Capital One has been able to provide resources to nonprofit partners like APCH in the way of financial support, helping hands and creating real impact for individuals in the community. 

“Without the support of companies like Capital One, the work we do for the community isn’t possible,” explains Dr. Taylor. “Ninety-nine percent of our operating budget comes from private sources. We are only able to support young people like Michelle because of partnerships with individuals and companies that understand why the work we do at A Place Called Home is important — when the young people of South Central succeed, we all do.”

The partnership between A Place Called Home and Capital One started seven years ago, in 2012. 

“Capital One was one of the first partners to step up and fund our P.R.E.P. program, which provides intensive support through mentorship, one-on-one coaching, internship placement and career readiness classes,” shared Dr. Taylor. 

P.R.E.P or Professional Readiness and Employment Pathways, is a program created by APCH educators and counselors and supported by Capital One that offers members ages 16 and older employment experience, equipping teens and young adults with job-readiness skills through internships. 

Capital One employees have given countless hours to the organization as well, finding their own lives enriched by the partnership. 

“Capital One employees volunteer on our campus regularly. They have provided educational workshops for our teen members and participated in special events — like our Prince Charming and Cinderella project, which outfits 1,000 teens for their senior prom, and Backpack to School, which provides free backpacks and school supplies to more than 1,500 community members annually,” said Dr. Taylor. 

For neighborhoods like South Central, the support and dedication of community-builders like A Place Called Home and Capital One give otherwise disadvantaged youth the resources needed to live a long, successful life. 

Having grown up in an under-resourced community himself, being part of a team that provides opportunities to youth in need means the world to Aarón E. Almada, community affairs manager at Capital One.

“I want them to have the sense of community I was missing,” explains Aarón. “My personal hope is that the youth who benefit from APCH feel supported — that there is a community around them that wants them to succeed. It’s so important to have places like APCH where youth can go to be secure and safe in a space where they can grow and develop into successful, talented young adults.”

“We are so grateful for this partnership,” praises Dr. Taylor. “Capital One is a great community partner that understands what nonprofit organizations need — long-term commitments of time, talent, treasure and interpersonal connection.”

For future college graduate Michelle, this partnership has helped her find a voice within herself that she is excited to share with the world. Excitedly talking about all her possible opportunities, from the entertainment industry to mentoring youth, she breaks in grateful remembrance of years past. 

“I want to thank A Place Called Home for just believing in me and supporting me in any way.”

For APCH, hearing Michelle’s voice strong and proud is all the thanks they need. 

 

To learn more about Capital One’s community efforts, go to capitalone.com/about.