HARLINGEN — The children poured into the room like gems of playful color, faces radiant with enthusiastic smiles that could only emerge from the innocents.
“I’m Abigail,” said a little girl in a pink dress as she tossed a lime green ball with Alonso Rangel, 16, a summer youth clerk.
Alonso was one of several “youth clerks” ages of 16 to 24 working with young residents at LeMoyne Gardens. The community is one of four residential areas under the direction of the Harlingen Housing Authority. The youth clerks spend 20 hours a week working with the children in a variety of activities.
The clerks are part of the Harlingen Housing Authority Family Learning Center Summer Program. Between two and four student mentors are assigned at each site.
Mentors are in high school or college and work in the housing areas during the summer. The student mentors receive hands-on training in communication skills, leadership skills, computer skills and creative thinking skills.
They put that extra training to good use in their work with their young neighbors during the summer.
“We have different programs we do here,” said Sara Prieto, 19, one of the youth clerks at LeMoyne Gardens.
A total of 13 youth clerks work with children ages 5 to 15. Youth clerks are residents of the communities, serving as role models to other children.
“We have reading, we talk about current events, we have a garden, we have a cooking program,” said Sara, who lived in LeMoyne for 11 years.
She’s currently on summer break from college where she’s studying to be a teacher.
Activities also include hula hoops, jump rope, basketball and kickball, said Hilda Benavides, executive director of the Harlingen Housing Authority.
“They also help out with cleaning,” said Benavides, referring to periodic community cleanups.
The youth mentors help the children participate.
At the Family Learning Center in Los Vecinos, children were just sitting down to lunch. Small clay planters sat next to a window where they’d planted herbs to take home. Angelica Gonzalez, 17, and other youth clerks served free lunches of chicken nuggets, then sat and ate with them.
“I really love coming to see them play and work in the garden,” she said.
Nearby, some children sat in rows of chairs watching an animated movie called “Moana.” The characters spoke in English but captions also spelled out the words so the children could practice their reading skills.
Other children were very actively engaged in their conversations with Angelica, one of many role models.
“They make us read every day,” said Jose Garcia, 11.
“We can see how they can make it work and then we can do it,” said Fatima Jimenez, 8.
It appears the clerks and the area’s children derive a great deal of joy from the relationship.
“I like to work with them,” said Eduardo Muro, 16, a clerk. “They always bring us something new. It’s always something new.”
Back at LeMoyne, children dressed smartly in their best attire filled the Family Learning Center, whirling hula-hoops around their tiny bodies and bouncing soccer balls. Soon Sara and the other mentors sat the down and brought out boxes of crayons. Young fingers grasped the crayons and began spreading lines of color across white paper.
The program is a resource center that offers a variety of education opportunities for school-age children from kindergarten to high school. It’s a six-week program implemented at the Harlingen Housing Authority’s public housing sites.
* Los Vecinos
* LeMoyne Gardens
* Sunset Terrace Apartment
* Bonita Park
Duties of Student Mentors
* Lesson planning
* Organizing centers
* Leading small groups
* Record keeping
* Assisting with attendance
* Maintaining positive attitude and good