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Full Circle: The Story of Barbie and Brisa June 5, 2017

Full Circle: The Story of Barbie and Brisa

Eight years ago, when Wheaton Bible Church began its Puente del Pueblo outreach to serve the residents of the Timber Lake Apartments, they were excited to launch an after-school program offering academic enrichment to children in their elementary years.

That program was called Puente del Niño, and among the first to be enrolled were two little girls named Brisa and Barbie. Barbie was a second grader, and Brisa joined the program as a third grader.

Both girls came from households that were predominantly Spanish-speaking, and each was struggling in school—learning English as a second language while trying to keep up with daily classwork. To help them succeed, their teachers at Wegner Elementary School recommended the girls for the new Puente del Pueblo after-school program.

At first the girls weren’t sure what to think of the strangers who wanted them to go back into the classroom while the other students headed outdoors for after-school play. But with the urging of their parents, Brisa and Barbie timidly, and somewhat skeptically, gave up the freedom of the playground in order to receive the tutoring and training that Puente was offering.

Now in their teen years, Barbie and Brisa smile as they recall how quickly their attitude toward the program changed! They soon found that being part of the Puente program meant that an exciting adventure—full of friends and fun—awaited them each afternoon. And those strangers in that first classroom? The girls came to know and love the caring adult mentors who played key roles in their young lives.

As days turned into weeks, and weeks into years, Puente del Niño became a special place for the girls and their classmates. The songs, games, lessons, and Christian Education provided personal and academic challenges and offered the children more time and resources to learn and grow—all in the context of positive community and caring relationships.

Even when the school year was over, the fun and learning didn’t stop. Each of the girls share warm memories of participating in summer activities and camps—including a special highlight they each recall with excitement: a week at “sleep away camp” in Wisconsin. Two years in a row, Barbie and Brisa were able to attend Norman B. Barr Camp in Lake Geneva, at a tiny fraction of the cost of most summer camps. The girls agree that those weeks without phones or internet, and away from home and family, were so important, as they learned how to swim, interacted with different kinds of people, and experienced a different way of life.

Lilia Salazar, Puente’s elementary after-school coordinator, clearly remembers Brisa and Barbie from those early days.

“They were so young, so cute, and respectful,” Lilia says. “Barbie was in second grade, and she was struggling with math and reading. But she was very eager and picked it up very quickly. Brisa, who was a third grader, could read but had trouble concentrating without getting tired and distracted.”

“I can still see them during our end-of-year programs. I remember Barbie up on the stage, singing so enthusiastically. A special memory of Brisa is the year she graduated from our fifth-grade program into middle school.”

Today Brisa and Barbie are juniors in high school, earning good grades in Advanced Placement and honors classes, and considering colleges and imagining future careers.

“I’m really thankful for all that Puente brought into my life,” Brisa says. “It helped me grow into the person I am today.”

Full Circle

This past summer marked a special achievement—both for Brisa and Barbie and for the entire Puente del Pueblo team—when these two young women served as interns in the program that had played such an important role in
their own growing-up years.

Throughout the weeks of the Puente del Pueblo summer program, the elementary children who were part of the daily classes and activities benefited from the contributions of the energetic and intelligent young women Brisa and Barbie have become.

For the two young interns, nearly every part of the summer was a “trip down memory lane” as they helped facilitate the academic enrichment, the sports clinics, Christian education, and Mr. Wayne’s magic shows—recalling these same events from their own early years at Puente.

“It was so fun to be able to tell the kids stories that began ‘When we were your age, we did this too!” Brisa said. “They almost didn’t believe us!”
P
uente del Pueblo director Matthew McNiel—who has been with the program from day one—sees Brisa’s and Barbie’s internships as milestones for Puente.

“It has always been the strategic plan for Puente to ‘grow up with the children’ and shepherd them from their earliest days in school to their entry into the adult workforce.

“It was exhilarating for the Puente staff team to witness this achievement—seeing the program come full circle.”


“For me,” Matthew adds, “it is also symbolic of the trust Puente has built with families—that the program would continue to follow this trajectory along with the kids and that our church would maintain these connections with the students and their families for this long, for eight years, and that the families would continue to trust us with their children in such a powerful way.”

Lilia, who taught Brisa and Barbie back in their elementary years, was so excited to oversee their internships this summer.

“I felt so much emotion when I first saw them this summer as high schoolers. I was deeply moved to see how mature and capable Brisa was, heading up the line of children, talking to them and giving directions as though she were me. And Barbie was so responsible. When we had some problems and a key volunteer wasn’t available, Barbie immediately volunteered, saying ‘I can come every day.’

“That gave me so much joy, so much pride to see that they have become so mature and responsible,” Lilia said, “because I saw that at Puente we are doing a good job.”

Reflection and Affirmation

During their time as interns, Brisa and Barbie found themselves looking both forward and backward. Both agreed that working in the Puente program solidified their desire to go to college and pursue a career in teaching or working with children in other ways.

At the same time, being part of the program allowed them to reflect on how far Puente has taken them and what a difference it has made in their lives.

“Puente helped me learn, helped me with homework and English, gave me a vision for the future and taught me to be a good student,” Barbie said.

“Those years in the program also helped me see that the Bible could come alive and be interesting for me,” she added. “Now, in my church, I can listen and understand.”

Brisa is grateful that Puente has grown up with her into high school—expanding the program to older kids just as she needed it. And now Puente del Pueblo has even made it possible to her to visit colleges that she might never have been able to see.

Barbie agrees. “I’m grateful that they didn’t just stop with the elementary program. They grew with us through middle school, then high school, and now this internship. And they are growing with us into college!”

“I love seeing how this program that started with seven kids—including me—is now reaching over a hundred children and students,” Brisa said. “And now I get to be one of the people who is on the giving end, helping other kids!”

“I love these girls,” Lilia said. “I will be so proud to see them graduate from high school next year. And I hope I can be there to see them walk across the stage to receive their university diplomas, too!”

Watch out world. Here they come!

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