Roberto in After School in 2007
Roberto at the Gala in 2016
My name is Roberto Vazquez, and I am a senior at University Prep Charter High School.
I’ve participated in Mercy Center’s Youth Programs since I was 8 years old, when I started coming to After School. At the time, After School was only from kindergarten through 5th grade. I remember when I finished the program, I used to complain to my mom and to people at Mercy Center, that there was no After-School for middle school kids. I like to think that my complaining helped bring about the expansion of the After School program for 6th-8th graders.
After starting high school, I began volunteering in the After School as a counselor and tutor for the younger grades… and I realized just how hard a job it is to be a teacher. I started coming to Mercy Center for summer camp as well when I was 8, and I have to say, camp now is very, very different. Camp used to be only 2 weeks long, and we had fun playing games and going to a pool. Now it’s 5 weeks long, and a lot more educational with science, math and reading projects. Daisy, the Youth Programs Manager, likes to say that we “trick kids into learning”, and it’s great that the children have fun learning and don’t lose all that they learned during the school year. I’ve been an assistant counselor in summer camp for the last three years. Even last year with a broken ankle I like to think I was the backbone of the operation, taking care of snacks, and minding the hallway.
I like coming to Mercy Center so much that I even started coming on Saturdays. I got better at reading through the Saturday Reading program, then joined the “Reading Club” with Malina, where we not only talked about books and school, but also about current events, such as the elections, and what we see ourselves doing after high school. We had the chance to help out in the Rockaways by cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy, and I was glad we could give back after such a disaster.
Because of Mercy Center, I have seen things in New York City that I never knew existed, including seeing the musical “In the Heights”, SONY Wonderland, and country places upstate. I’ve also had the chance to join the Children’s Fiver Foundation camp and programs. Mercy Center staff had to really convince my parents to send me away for 2 weeks on my own when I was just 8 years old. It has been an amazing experience these last 10 years with my friends at camp.
Before I came to Mercy Center, I honestly can say I didn’t have any friends. I was new to the neighborhood and didn’t really know anyone. Coming to Mercy Center, I’ve made life-long friends, and the programs here have taught me many valuable lessons.
At Mercy Center I was also able to take advantage of President Obama’s initiative, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as “DACA”. As a young person who came to the United States as a child, I can now go to college in New York with in-state tuition, and work here legally.
Thank you for supporting Mercy Center, for supporting families, and young people like me who are looking for new experiences and opportunities to have brighter futures.