Ricardo Benavidez is the government and community relations manager at Cisco, and a long-time volunteer and supporter of Citizen Schools. If you walk through my neighborhood of East San Jose you will hear this same story told again and again. The story of men and women who have come to this country in search of a better life, in hopes of securing a better future for themselves and their families. Often this never amounts to more than a hope, but in the case of my parents the goal of securing a better future was secured.
I have the fortune of writing this not only as the government and community relations manager for Cisco, but as a testimony to what one can achieve if given the proper tools. My parents migrated to the US in the '70s from Mexico-- my dad a butcher and my mom a janitor. Neither had much schooling when they arrived to the United States. I took note at a young age how hard they worked and how little they made.
Years later after having been given a strong foundation, I found myself wondering what can I do with the opportunities I have in some cases been handed, in others had to fight for, and in many ways have just been lucky to receive. The answer was a simple one, pay it forward. By sharing my time, my experiences, and my resources I have become a part of a movement to help inspire under-served students to achieve.
Time: When I was 10, my neighbor, Mr. Adkins, took an active interest in my education. He challenged me to raise my C's to A's and B's. His interest, paired with the belief that I was capable of excelling, was the push I needed to perform. For over a decade I have been trying to do the same by serving as a mentor to at-risk students. We each live busy lives, but I know from experience, that sometimes something as subtle as a person sharing their time, can be enough reason for one to believe in their own worth.
Experiences: In a family where survival was the first priority I had to utilize the experiences of my teachers, such as Mr. Swienciki, to help me navigate the college application system and explore careers. Even today I look to my personal network to guide me through opportunities and avenues that are new to me. Each of us possesses a wealth of knowledge that we may not see as being valuable to others, but the reality is the teens are desperate for advice and answers to questions that we most likely can resolve. I know this by inviting students to my work place to gain hands on experience into the corporate world. I take students on college tours, help them with SAT preparation and course selection that will assist in college attainment; as insignificant as this may have seemed to me 10+ years ago, I have been told that without my help, many of them would not have had the additional insight to choose a career.
Resources: For some time and personal experiences are difficult to extend, and financial resources is often the easiest way to give back to the community. It is also one of the greatest ways. Even with the time I was given by Mr. Adkins, and the knowledge that was shared by Mr. Swienciki, I would not have been able to reach the goals and hopes that my parents set forth back in Mexico and instilled in me without grants and scholarships. The reality is, without financial resources, many dreams are unattainable. While my own personal wealth is not large, I am fortunate. I make it a priority to give to nonprofits that provide access and opportunity to under-served students.
The foundation of time, experiences, and resources can be the difference between a student struggling for survival or exceeding all expectations. I like to believe with the foundation given to me, I have done the latter and I urge you to do the same. At the very least you will have the opportunity to positively influence another, and if you are as fortunate as I have been, you will be blessed to have them influence you in return.
You can make an impact like Ricardo by signing up to teach an apprenticeship with Citizen Schools.