From San Francisco to Pittsburg - Finding a Home Away From Home

From San Francisco to Pittsburg - Finding a Home Away From Home

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The news was broken to me midway through 5th grade at Rosa Parks Elementary: We were moving. I was shocked to think of myself living anywhere that wasn’t San Francisco. My immediate response was, “WHERE THE HECK IS PITTSBURG?!” Were we really moving to Pennsylvania? My father laughed and informed me that Pittsburg is in the East Bay. I would have loved to have stayed in San Francisco, but there was some comfort that at least I would remain in the Bay Area.

When we moved, the first thing I noticed was the blazing heat. My god, was it hot. Much different from the cool, breezy, ocean-kissed weather I’d become accustomed to. But it wasn’t all bad. My father decided to get me and my brother involved in cleaning up our new yard, and we knew that meant the possibility of an allowance. We made about $60 apiece cleaning up branches and pulling up weeds.

Little did I know at the time, but in Pittsburg, try as I might, cleaning up the yard turned out to be one of the few positive activities to engage in. Getting into trouble for delinquent activity was never my cup of tea, but it would have been easy in Pittsburg – there is a lot of mischief waiting on young people here who don’t have much to do.

One day on my travels I came across the Ambrose Teen Center. My first impression was, “Eh, needs work, but it has potential.” And potential it had! I introduced myself to the teen center coordinator, Rande Ross. He handed me an application and told me to bring it back completely filled out, with a one-page paper stating why I wanted to join the teen center. I went home and told my brother about it, and he was interested to see this place I’d stumbled across. I returned with him the following day. We were both relieved that maybe the summer wouldn’t be so bland and boring.

I didn’t know at the time, but this place would become my home away from home. I could get help with my homework and there were plenty of games to play – dominos, pool, air hockey, and my personal favorite, basketball. But once I’d been coming to the teen center for a while, I started to feel that I had a higher calling. I went and talked to Rande about whether there were any ways that I could be of service to the community. To my surprise, he suggested I join his leadership program, at the entry level. In the program I learned leadership skills, like planning, organization, and time management. I eventually made it to a higher-level program, where we learned business skills, like how to manage credit.

Rande got us involved in organizing events, like an art show and auction at Ambrose. We took photographs and framed them, and at the event we all wore polo shirts and slacks and nice dress shoes. I was so nervous because I had to speak at the event. Up until that point, I had no experience with public speaking and I was skeptical of my abilities. My speech went better than I expected, and we made more than $500. No, we didn’t break the bank, but we got something so much more important out of it.

It might seem like a small thing – getting teenagers involved by having them put on their own auction to support the place where they go after school – but it was a big deal to me. I was given real responsibilities and I felt like I learned something about bringing a goal to execution.

I’m only 24 and I have a ways to go before accomplishing the goals I’ve set for myself. But I feel like because of Rande and the teen center I’m equipped to take the bull by the horns.

This is part of a special series, Youth Voices Beyond the Bay, exploring the stories of young people growing up on the far reaches of the Bay Area. Click here to read more stories from the series.