received March 19, 2014
I remember I was never able to actually explain what MAPS was. Nobody could. We all had something different to say, yet we agreed with what everyone said. So was MAPS everything? After I gave it a lot of thought, I realized that no matter how much I try to explain what MAPS is, others won’t understand because to understand MAPS, you have to live through MAPS. MAPS is something that lives inside of me. It’s what made me happy and sad and excited and cared for. When someone asks me about a certain topic, I always relate it to something that has to do with MAPS because MAPS is everything I know. I mean, I know a lot of things and I’ve experienced many great events out on my own, but none of those experiences would have been the same if I hadn’t gone through MAPS. I am a totally different person than when I first started MAPS.
I remember hearing about MAPS and telling my best friend we should stop going to soccer, our favorite sport, to focus on our education more. We were both good students, and we wanted to go to college but we needed that push. We practically held each other’s hands as we walked into our first meeting at MAPS, which we were totally late for. See, I write about my best friend and I getting to experience entering MAPS together, because my best friend is the very first friend I accepted for what she truly was and she accepted me for everything I was. I was always bad with friendships. Never had a friendship last more than two, maybe three years. Not even with my own sister of five years younger. I hated her. I hated her for being who she was, because I hated what she was. I didn’t appreciate anything but myself, because I thought I was better than her. That’s what everyone said, and that’s what I grew up believing. I was never the type of sister to tell her I was better than her, but in my head, I thought I was. Everyone compared us and everyone would always say I was the smart and down to earth one. She was the crazy and troubled one. I remember telling Sarai about my sister and how much I hated her. I told Sarai, “She’s my sister, but she will never be my friend.” It was the first time I actually told someone how I felt about my sister, and Sarai cried with me, and I cried. And when I heard myself saying all these things, I felt like I was the worst sister ever because I was supposed to look after her and not judge her. Sarai helped me find it within myself to forgive myself for everything I had said and done and thought wrong about my sister. Because of Sarai and her words of guidance, I sought my sister’s forgiveness. Now, my sister and I get along a lot better. We don’t have a perfect relationship, but we work at it every day and I will never give up on her. She is one of my best friends and even though I can’t tell her everything yet because she’s too young, someday I will tell her every little detail that comes to mind because I wouldn’t mind sharing my life with her. All the friendships and connections I’ve make with people since I’ve started MAPS, I’ve worked on to keep. I learned to love people and appreciate them for what they are. I learned that I’m not perfect in any way and so I can’t expect everyone else to be what I would consider a “perfect friend.”
Four summers ago, my dad was abducted. I didn’t know if I would ever see him again and I didn’t know what I was going to do if I didn’t see him. As his daughter, he was my first love and first best friend and I had taken him for granted. I was mad at him the morning he was abducted, that’s what killed me more. I wasn’t at peace knowing that my dad could be taken away from me when I wasn’t on good terms with him because I refused to get him a glass of water. I called him “lazy” and walked off mad. Fortunately, he came home the next day. And since that day, I began bonding with my dad all over again. We’d spend time with the animals we had and we connected. I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian, because I loved animals and the fact that they brought me closer to my dad. Ever since that summer, my family learned to trust nobody. I didn’t like people, because I didn’t know if I could trust them. I was scared to get close to people, because I didn’t want to lose anybody. I didn’t like the idea of giving someone else the opportunity to hurt me. When I started MAPS, I didn’t trust anybody there besides maybe my best friend. When I first met Sarai, I thought I’d never trust her or connect with her. I never expected her to be who she is. I thought she was going to be this lady that told us what to do and how to do it. And I was used to that, because of school. I thought Sarai was going to be just another teacher or something like that. But the more time I spent at MAPS, the more I wanted to go back. I actually liked these people and I loved the opportunities Sarai allowed us to have. Sarai is the first person I know that trusted all of us, even if we were youth. When I started MAPS, I was sixteen years old; I didn’t know anything about the real world. But Sarai trusted me enough to want to shine and strive for the best I could be. Sarai and MAPS gave me the tools I needed to become a leader in my community and in my household.
After being involved with my community and seeing how happy I made others, I realized that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to help others and work for my community. I hope to someday help youth with academics and their life. I want to travel the world; I want my hands to touch the hearts of millions of people. If I ever get to be even half of what Sarai and MAPS was to me for others, I’d be blessed. I’ve met some people that are happy knowing that they help others, and I hope to feel this way forever. However, I also find joy in being able to learn from those I am being a resource for. It’s a blessing getting to know that I can put a smile on someone’s face and help them through their struggles. I am now currently majoring in Community and Regional Development with a minor in Education.
I was involved with school clubs and other programs outside of school that were supposed to help me with academics. I had seen my sister in various programs as well because she was a troubled student. But none of these other programs got to being as good as MAPS. These other programs wanted to focus on helping a child do better in a subject, but wanted nothing to do with the child outside of these programs. MAPS isn’t like that. MAPS wants to be there before and after your success. They want to share that D you got up to an A. Everyone supports each other, academically, physically and emotionally. MAPS isn’t just a program like the rest out there; MAPS is a family and we welcome everyone that wants to live a happy life. I remember I’d show up to MAPS early and leave late, because that was my second home. I didn’t mind spending every day there, I loved that place. I loved being part of something so real with people that wanted to be there as much as I did.
At first, MAPS was mostly about school. And I really liked that because I had a place to do my homework and get help if I didn’t understand something. Getting to be part of MAPS helped me with my testing skills. I have always been a bad test taker and studier. Every time I’d study, I’d fail the test. And every time I didn’t study, I somehow seemed to get a nearly perfect score on all my tests. So I figured studying wasn’t for me, until MAPS encouraged me to actually start studying. I just had to find the right strategy that worked for me. Ever since I joined MAPS, I learned that I am an independent learner. I love to help people and work with people, but I learn more on my own. My brain processes things faster when I watch videos on my own and say the answers out loud. Having someone stand up in the room and teach me the ACT curriculum didn’t really work for me, but it did help me understand what I had to do to improve my ACT scores. Sitting in small groups did help me work with others around me. I learned how to explain things to others, which I totally was not good at before MAPS. Whenever I got to explain something to someone, I worked on myself and I got to help someone out. SO it was a win-win situation and I loved it.
Junior year of high school, Sarai told us we had to have a list of the colleges we’d be applying to. We had to have about nine schools in total on our list, and all I could write on my list was UC Davis. I hadn’t researched any other school, not because I was slacking off, but because UC Davis was the only university I could see myself at. I refused to add any other schools on my list. But eventually, after talking to Sarai various times, I added a couple more schools on my list. After all, everything she had advised me to do before had always turned out to be a good thing for me. After a very long wait, I got accepted as an animal science major at UC Davis. I was the happiest person ever, because all my hard work had paid off. I feel like Sarai always knew I’d get in. I feel like she’s always known what I’m supposed to be doing in life and she guides me. I can easily say I’m at Davis because of my own hard work and because I wrote a personal statement that stood out. I’m the one that did everything, but I didn’t. I couldn’t have gotten in without MAPS and Sarai and everyone else that was a part of MAPS. If Sarai hadn’t opened these doors for me, and allowed me to take a position at MAPS, I would be so lost right now. I found myself at MAPS and learned more about myself than I ever expected.
Sarai introduced me to a couple of other amazing women that gave me the opportunity to intern for them as well. I got to be a part of an all-girls manners academy program. Since I was the oldest teenager there, the other young girls really looked up to me. I felt like I had a whole bunch of little girl cousins looking up to me and asking me for advice. They listened to me, but they knew I wasn’t of authority. I was there to help them and everyone was so nice. I was able to help these young girls grow and learn about themselves. It was amazing to meet them the first week, so shy and quiet, and get to see them at the tea party the last week of the program, where they had blossomed into beautiful butterflies. We all grew together and learned something from each other and they allowed me to bring my sister with me and bond with her.
I would want nothing more than to see Sarai and the services MAPS provided us help others out there that also need some encouragement and reassurance. I hope that MAPS can help everyone out there someday. And I hope that everyone benefiting from MAPS and Sarai will help others. And it will be like a chain; a chain of help and support and love that never ends. Nobody will ever say that they did not learn or gain something from Sarai or MAPS, I’d bet everything on that.
I now intern at the Student Community Center here on campus at UC Davis. I intern for the best person I have met here on campus. She guides me and helps me. I trust her very much and there’s times where we sit down and have these deep conversations I can’t have with many other people. She asked me about MAPS the other day and I told her everything I could. She got these teary eyes when I was talking about everything that had to do with MAPS. I knew she felt it; my happiness as I spoke about MAPS and Sarai. She asked me what Sarai was to me. I said, “If Sarai told me to jump off a cliff, I would. Because I know it’d be for a good reason. She’s my light at the end of the tunnel.”