My name is Erik Juarez. I grew up on Truslow Street, which is in the Maple neighborhood. For me, I had strong belief that I was going to be just another kid from the block, gang banging, because that was the only thing in my surroundings. I always had that community that wanted to help but I didn’t want seem like an outsider to my friends by receiving help from a community church. That church was Solidarity.
Being received into the Solidarity community helped me meet new people and have new experiences that offered different hopes than what I had known.
At Merge, the youth church, I got the opportunity to express myself and have deeper conversations with my friends. We got to talk about what’s next in life and that’s where I got to see that there are other options for me. And it helped me find my faith. Growing up, I was forced to go to church because of my age, but I didn’t have an understanding of who or what God was. But when I started to going to Merge, they made it easy to understand God’s plan and helped me find faith in God. There were moments like this one I had The Oaks camp where a leader Jose helped me understand that I wasn’t alone and that God would always be with me and that having a lot of faith can go a long ways. Since then, I knew I wasn’t alone because I could sense the Holy Spirit with me and felt a strong, loving presence with me.
Through Impact, the leadership program, I had a better vision of what life had for me. I have been meeting with my mentor for the last 2-3 years. In that time, Jay helped me understand that college and getting a job that I wanted to do was good. He didn’t force me, but he kept pursuing me. A requirement of Impact is to set SMART goals each session. Learning to set these goals helped me stay organized and have helped achieved something bigger than what I had ever imagined.
I have also got to know myself as a leader. At Solidarity, they gave me space to lead. I was group leader for students at a camp in Washington, I became Assistant Director for the Maple SOLFul program, and I am currently mentoring a student from my own neighborhood.
It’s amazing to step back and look at all these things I’ve gotten to do. I’m not only receiving and learning but I’m giving back.
Through these experiences I learned that I was able to accomplish way more than what I thought was possible for me. I’ve managed to have 2 jobs, enroll in school, be a part of mentoring and giving back to my neighborhood. I used to believed that there wasn’t a lot for me, but now I am seeing that there is so much more to accomplish ahead of me. I am now working on my schooling to become a Registered Nurse. I’m ready to give back not just to Solidarity, but to the world. And I strongly believe I can do it.
I hope you can see that just because you live in a neighborhood surrounded by violence, doesn’t mean that there’s not hope for you. I would highly encourage you to help fund our community so that bigger and better stories like mine can appear.
- Erik Juarez
& IMPACT mentor
For as many beautiful stories like Erik’s there are dozens of other youth and young adult who have yet to realize their fullest potential. Sometimes the only thing that it takes to change their trajectory on one’s life is to (a) view them in all of their God given dignity and then to (b) INVEST into the treasures that they are.
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