by Terri Durham, Office Coordinator, Seeds of Hope

Mariela works with the Stanfield Elementary School District. Amanda is married with two kids living in the East Valley. Wendy, Julissa and Zeniada are alumni or students of Central Arizona College. One thing they all have in common is where they got their first taste of leadership: the Seeds of Hope afterschool Peer Leadership program. What began as a teen club in the early 1990s to help teenagers learn pro-social skills is still an integral part of our after-school program.

Today, eight teens assist after-school coordinator Toni with the daily planning, crowd control, feeding, youth activities, resolving conflict and cleanup each afternoon at the Mondo Anaya Community Center. In return, they receive a small stipend and a whole lot of experience in leadership, including opportunities to attend leadership events. All Peer Leaders are required to go through our Jobs for Life program that teaches Biblically based principles on work ethic and soft skills for the work environment.

Because we cultivate relationships with kids who attend our afterschool program year after year, it’s not uncommon for peer leaders to come up through the ranks. Applying for a peer leader position has become a rite of passage for many of our program participants. Each new school year sees a new class of peer leaders anxious to learn the other side of what it takes to run the afterschool program.

When summer rolls around a few of our peer leaders are ready to take the next step. High school graduates apply to college, some relocate and start new jobs, and a few of the younger peer leaders move up and become the role models for the new ones joining the ranks. In 2017 we initiated a very small scholarship program for long-term peer leaders going on to college.

With 25 years of ministry to Casa Grande, our peer leader program has invested in countless young people who show promise of becoming positive contributors to society. Sometimes they come back to say, “thank you.” But whether or not they do is not why we continue the program. The return on our investment is seen in how they impact and shape our community as adults. That’s all the thanks we need.

This quiet little leadership program breaks the cycle of poverty by encouraging education, employment and stable families. That’s quite a return on investment.