For years, Tammy Kjos has been generously donating her time to volunteer at Casa de los Angeles for a week every summer. A life-changing experience for her from the beginning, Tammy just completed three months of full-time volunteering at newly-named Centro Infantil de los Angeles. Here she shares some of her insights on her time volunteering with us, recent changes to the organization, and why volunteering means so much to her.
What first inspired you to volunteer at Casa de los Angeles?
I was first inspired to volunteer at Casa de los Angeles when Cross of Glory was organizing their first team mission trip. It seemed like God was telling me, “Go, this is what I’ve prepared you for.” In my heart, I knew I had to go, but things didn’t work out at the time and I felt so dressed that I couldn’t make it. Finally, in 2007, the time was right and I was able to go. I was drawn to the mission of caring for children of low income families, while their mothers went to work. I am a bilingual teacher who works with Spanish speaking families, so I felt a calling to help across borders, to learn something new and to do God’s work.
As someone who has been coming to Casa de los Angeles for years, how does the volunteer experience now that the organization has grown compare to your first visit?
In my first visit, I didn’t know what it would be like. I had heard from previous volunteers that the experience would change me more than I change the lives of others. I think that was very true! I went thinking I would be so helpful to those poor children, but I learned a simpler way of life. The children were happy despite the poverty they were living in. This year, my expectations were more realistic. There are different teachers. The daycare is in a different building and living in the Volunteer House is amazing! Instead of serving 80 children, we are now serving about 160 as a result of the merger. The leadership is different than before. Patricia has brought an educational focus to the daycare. It is so nice to know that our babies can continue to receive services through kindergarten. Their kindergarten education prepares them very well for first grade.
You have volunteered for a week every summer as part of a group of volunteers. How has your experience over the last 3 months differed from your previous stays?
Volunteering for a week is a wonderful way to become exposed to the mission of Centro Infantil de los Angeles. In a week, you get to know one classroom, the teacher, and the children in it. You get a taste of the Mexican culture and your heart will be changed. Staying for 3 months has given me a chance to get to know the culture of the daycare and to get to know all the children, teachers, and staff much better. I have learned of the deeper struggles that each person goes through, as well as their dreams. I have come to know the neighborhood and the people in the community. After 3 months, I feel that I made an impact on a small group of people and I know that they made an impact on me.
What do you see as the most important contribution a volunteer can make in the lives of the children of Centro Infantil de los Angeles?
Be open to learning new things. A volunteer has an opportunity to make a very powerful impact in the lives of the children, especially after leaving. When a volunteer shares his or her experience with others, they are raising awareness of this mission and raising funds to support it. To me, this is the greatest contribution a volunteer can make.
What part of the day do you enjoy most while volunteering?
Tough question! I enjoy many parts of the day, but my favorite is during those transition times when the kids are waiting for breakfast or waiting for the floor to dry. This is when I get goofy and entertain the children by singing or dancing. I make a fool of myself, but the children stop fussing. They watch me, smile, and sometimes join me in the song or dance.
During the past 2 months, you have been working to support the parents of Centro Infantil de los Angeles through various activities. What influenced you to do this? And what do you see as being the significance of working with the parents?
For every child, there is a parent. To truly help a child, you help change the lives of their parents. I felt God nudging me to work with the parents, to encourage them to move forward, and to learn some positive parenting skills. By teaching parents English for free, they can get a better job. In my classes, I also taught parenting skills to help parents become aware of their actions. During interviews with parents, they revealed some of their struggles and some of their dreams. Hopefully, I got them thinking about their dreams and motivated them to move forward, to take the next step.
How do you stay connected to Centro Infantil de los Angeles when you are back home?
I stay connected by posting and visiting their Facebook page and visiting Centroinfantil.org. I also stay connected by talking about CILA to church members, friends, and family. I spread the word about this wonderful mission and encourage others to donate financially and/or with their time volunteering.
And what advice would you give volunteers who leave but want to continue having an impact on the center?
Spread the word about our mission and the wonderful time you had. Actively recruit people to go volunteer. Also, give financially to help support Centro Infantil de los Angeles.