“I am Brave, I am Smart, I am Capable. . .”

“Repeat after me,” said Darlene Ruiz, Back2Back staff, into the microphone. “I am brave, I am smart, I am capable, I am a child of God.”

The seven high school graduates repeated each affirmation after Darlene, while their families and a visiting mission team smiled on in encouragement.

“Now, parents, take your child’s hands and repeat after me: You are smart, you are brave, you are capable of achieving your dreams, and I will be here, be with you, and encourage you,” she asked of the parents.

There was a small murmur as each parent repeated the sentiments to their children. It was a special moment – one seven teens have worked hard to achieve over the last several years through programming at their local community centers.

“It was a whirlwind of celebrations,” shared Amy Kelly, Back2Back staff. “We held graduation ceremonies and parties for children and teens graduating from elementary, middle, and high school.” Each was held at the center, and a visiting mission team helped decorate the space and served as excellent cheerleaders for each child and teen celebrated.

The team brought caps and gowns for the high school grads to wear for their ceremonies, and their families were present for every moment of the event.

To conclude the time for the high school graduates, there was an open mic portion where staff and families were able to stand up and encourage the graduates. One of the young women graduating from high school, Monica, asked to say a few words.

“The last few years have been a struggle to get to this point,” she shared bravely. “I want to thank my mom and dad, my tutors, and the staff here at the center who never gave up on me and helped me get to this point. I want to become a teacher, to be a cheerleader for my own students in the ways I was cheered on by all of you. You’ve each left fingerprints in my life, and it is my wish to be a teacher and leave my own fingerprints on the lives of the children I teach, in the same way. Thank you.”

It was a day of celebrating all the hard work and dedication it takes for the students to reach these monumental milestones. Their parents were eager and proud to celebrate alongside their children. Now each teen has photos and gifts as mementos to recall the unique ways they were supported and celebrated. Together, staff, families, and students alike look to the future as each student works to achieve their next milestone, knowing when they accomplish the next goal, they will be readily celebrated and supported, as they have been all along.