.Going Extra

Xintli Rivera Raygoza works to pay it forward

When 20-year-old Xintli Rivera Raygoza was just three years old and her mom was at home struggling with postpartum depression after birthing Rivera Raygoza’s younger brother, advocates from the Contra Costa County program Welcome Home Baby – Aspiranet intervened. The advocates didn’t remove Rivera Raygoza from the care of her mom, who wasn’t able to leave her home or provide the care her children needed due to the depth of her emotional struggle. Instead, they helped Rivera Raygoza’s mom enroll her then-toddler in the Community Youth Center in Concord.

Rivera Raygoza smiles as she sits surrounded by youth she coaches in competitive cheer, the sport she says saved her life. “I feel like my life would be a lot different if not for the CYC,” she says. “I’m from a place that’s lower income. A lot of my friends have dropped out of school and I’ve lost a lot of my friends to violence. Being involved with my sport at the CYC was like an escape from all of that. All of the things I thought I could never do, I’ve done.”

As a member of the CYC’s all-star cheer team, Rivera Raygoza was able to fulfill her dream of being a competitive cheerleader and travel to places in the country she wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to get to. “Cheering is honestly a very hard sport to come by,” she says. “And CYC’s fees are just a fraction of what other gyms charge.”

Rivera Raygoza worked hard in her sport throughout her entire childhood and rose to the top-tier team by the time she graduated high school. Today, the 20-year-old is paying it forward to the next generation as she coaches and serves as a customer service representative while chipping away at her college education at Diablo Valley Community College. “I see myself in these kids, and they pick up on everything,” Rivera Raygoza says. “It’s so fulfilling to be able to provide that support I needed when I was a child. I want to make sure not to screw up. I want to facilitate that loving environment for them.”

Rivera Raygoza is dancing with the idea of someday becoming a counselor after she transfers into a four-year college, but a piece of her heart will always be at the CYC. She says the most important lessons she learned in life comes from the “Three Ds” the 2,000 youth at the CYC learn while practicing their respective sports. “Discipline, dedication and desire are three words we live by here at the CYC,” she says. “But those three words are applicable to everything you do in life—whether it’s sports or motivation to pursue your dream or be the best person you can be.”

Karen Pineda, the director of customer service at the CYC, gives the 2,000 youth involved with the center a positive experience and also organizes several resource fairs each year as well as holiday meals for families. “It takes a village,” she says on a recent 100-degree day, while standing in the center’s parking lot surrounded by water features, a face-painting-for-kids station and resources ranging from the Family Justice Center to the Monument Crisis Center to Court Services for child support for families. “I think it is important to be able to have the community come together. If there’s a family that’s in need of court support or if they need assistance with having their children watched after school or accessing food, I think it’s important that we collaborate so we can have a warm transition and families can communicate and access the resources they need.”

The CYC offers soccer, boxing, football, gymnastics, dance, cheer, taekwondo and a host of other sports to youth, as well as an academic support center where children can go in between their activities to do their homework with the help of tutors. “We’re a year-round program with resources for children between the ages of 3 and 18,” Pineda says. “Whether you take one class or 10 classes, it’s the same price—$35 a month and discounted for siblings. And there are scholarships available.”

As to why so much effort goes into keeping the CYC a bustling hub of activities for more than 10 hours a day, 52 weeks a year, Pineda says, “We want to keep kids off the streets. Parents can drop their kids off here for their activities and go back to work and know that they are safe. While parents work, their children are learning a skill or a sport.”

What’s the point of putting so many resources into places, such as the CYC, that engage youth? Studies show that youth who are involved in extracurricular activities ranging from athletics to art to drama are more likely to stay in school and graduate from high school. The trend continues at the college level, with those involved outside the classroom more likely to receive degrees. If one can stretch their mind far enough to see the interconnectedness and nuances of education, activities and access, one can argue that programs like CYC are a direct antidote to the carceral system. Here’s why. If students who are involved are more likely to get their high school diploma, they’re statistically less likely to be incarcerated. On a national level, nearly 70% of incarcerated males lack high school diplomas. Only 20% of incarcerated people in California have a basic level of literacy and read on average at the level of an eighth grader. 

Dr. Dana Fry, who spent decades teaching in Contra Costa and Alameda county schools, recently said there’s already a noticeable difference between the way her students who are involved in extracurricular activities and those who aren’t approach learning. “Those who are in sports or other activities are generally less afraid to ask for help or communicate with teachers,” she says. “They are transferring the confidence, discipline and skills they’re gaining on the sports field or in their drama club to the classroom and they’re more likely to succeed.”

Fry says that rather than play the blame game for social problems like crime, dropping out of school or food or housing insecurity, we should look at what can be done to help. “Funded after-school programs are so important,” she says. “They give youth a chance to work together, build their confidence and grow.”

At the same time as community programs work to empower youth to find their voice and advocate for themselves and each other, it’s paramount to build empathy among teachers. For example, the children of parents who have been victimized by the system or separated from their children may also be skeptical of authority figures like coaches and teachers. “Schools can be a pipeline to prison—especially when the teachers lack an understanding of the cultural and life differences in their classrooms,” Fry says. “We need to educate our teachers so that all children can feel comfortable, wanted and safe at school. That way they can all progress.”

Pullquote: As a member of the CYC’s all-star cheer team, Rivera Raygoza was able to fulfill her dream of being a competitive cheerleader and travel to places in the country she wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to get to. “Cheering is honestly a very hard sport to come by,” she says. “And CYC’s fees are just a fraction of what other gyms charge.”

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