- Associated Press - Sunday, February 12, 2017

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) - Eulalio Martinez, 27, knows what it’s like to grow up without mom and dad.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times (https://bit.ly/2k7GJjf ) reports he knows what it’s like to look at aging grandparents as his parents.

He knows what it’s like to juggle high school homework and a part-time job to help the household make ends meet.

Martinez also knows that there are several others just like him in the city’s Westside who still struggle with the need for emotional and academic support and yearn for a hint of stability.

That’s why West Side Helping Hand opened its doors at the heart of the Westside, near Morgan and Baldwin Avenue, last year to help low-income children succeed.

The program, which is free, offers one-on-one after school tutoring, recreational activities, and character formation.

Martinez became the program’s academic dean and said his experience growing up on the Northwest side of Corpus Christi, near Manchester Avenue and Up River Road, has helped him understand and connect with the children.

“We were poor and it’s rough. I had to help out my grandparents, I only had two sets of clothes and there are so many kids here with those same stories,” Martinez said. “I can see where these children come from and it comes very naturally for me to help them and communicate with them.”

West Side Helping Hand operates inside Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, on Hiawatha Street, and the idea for the program was ignited by Rev. James Farfaglia about six years ago.

When Farfaglia took lead of the church he saw the need for a youth outreach program, he said.

“We saw a collapse of the families,” Farfaglia said. “We see families where the father is absent, there are a lot of single mothers or grandparents raising children.”

We knew we wanted to help the families by helping the kids,” Farfaglia said.

Virginia Cruz is raising three of her grandchildren on her own. The children - Gianna, 9, George, 8, and Adrian, 13 - were abandoned by their parents a few years ago, she said.

“They just took off,” Cruz said. “I’m by myself looking after them and it can get hard. It’s hard to keep kids out of the streets and out of trouble.”

She’s relieved to have found the program, she said.

“I was really stressed out because I can only help them so much with their homework,” Cruz said. “This is the first time I see anything like this around here and it has been so helpful.”

West Side Helping Hand is open from 3-7 p.m. Monday through Friday for students in the fourth to 12th grades. It also offers job training and resources, counseling and classes for parents.

The program helps about 30 children daily and Farfaglia credits the program’s success to the one-on-one mentoring and a loving environment.

“That personal attention, the tracking of the students’ grades has made this go beyond what started out as a Parish-based project,” Farfaglia said. “This is a home away from home for these kids and it’s so neat for us to see.”

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Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, https://www.caller.com


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