With painstaking care, Hector Gonzalez, 12, selected macaroni pieces on Thursday for a name plate that will hang on his door. For the last time this summer, Gonzalez and fellow students gathered at the South Lake Tahoe Family Resource Center for an arts and crafts session with Parabajitos, an early intervention and prevention program that aims to engage youth with their community.
Executive Director Delicia Spees and center staff founded the program four years ago to fill the summer school void. Working with few employees and a shoestring budget, the first year was really an experiment, FRC bilingual counselor Nicolas Huerta said.
Since then, Parabajitos, which means "for the little ones" in English, has grown. It now serves about 60 students, most of whom are Latinos from Tahoe elementary schools and the middle school.
According to Huerta, the size of the program might have changed, but the goal has not.
"We put our heads together on how to serve the kids so they're not spending all their time at home, playing video games. We want the kids to be more confident about themselves and have dreams about the future," Huerta said.
The FRC website describes Parabajitos as a philosophy-driven program that operates on the belief that all youth can reach their highest goals when they are given emotional support and held to high academic standards.
The program, which met four days per week this summer, offers more than just arts and crafts classes. From math exercises on the FRC computers to homegrown Olympic Games at the Bijou Community School fields - the next monkey bars Olympian might just come from South Lake Tahoe - to local field trips, the program is a way to get youth outside and learning in the summer, Huerta said.
For some of the students, Parabajitos outings to areas like Emerald Bay and Pope Beach mark their first time to the popular Tahoe spots. Lack of transportation can keep many of the youth tied to home, one of the reasons why the FRC holds Parabajitos at Bijou.
"We wanted something here in the neighborhood that they can take advantage of," Huerta said.
Spees said she anticipates that Parabajitos will serve high school students again next year with the completion of the Bijou Community School classrooms. She said she's happy with the program's development.
"It's been very successful. Our goal is to make children who are struggling with school, social and family issues, bring them in and give them the tools to be whatever they want to be," Spees said.
Now that the new school year is almost here, Parabajitos will change gears for the fall and winter after- and during-school sessions that will start at the end of the month. For information, visit http://tahoefamilyresourcecenter.com.