• by Pablo López • IDRA Newsletter • October 2005

Editor’s Note: The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, created by IDRA, is an internationally-recognized cross-age tutoring program for dropout prevention. Secondary students who are considered at risk of dropping out of school are placed as tutors of elementary students, enabling the older students to make a difference in the younger students’ lives. The tutors stay and do better in school. Every tutor has a special story. On the occasion of the program’s 20th anniversary, Pablo López shared his.

I am deeply honored to be here today, and I would like to share how my experience in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program made a difference in my life.

I joined the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program as an eighth grader at Faulker Middle School in Brownsville, Texas. When I joined the program, I just saw it as an opportunity to make money. Money was really tight at home due to my mother raising my brother and me. My father passed away when I was 7 years old. My mother began working to support us. I grew up in a bad neighborhood where there were “easier” ways to make money.

When our teacher coordinator, Mrs. Yolanda Olvera, gave me the opportunity to do something good, I took it. Throughout the program, I had a chance to meet and tutor different kids with different problems – not only to help them with their schoolwork but also to become their friend, someone they could trust. During the course of the school year, the money became less important and meeting with the children became my number one priority.

I had the opportunity to be a tutor, a role model and a friend to this great group of children. Being a tutor made me feel important because I felt I was finally doing something good. It made me want to do better in school, not only with academics but also my way of seeing things. How could I be a role model to these kids if I myself was a troublemaker at school?

I am not saying I was a perfect student. But then again who is? I was an average student, but when I was in front of these children, I felt way above average. I felt important; I felt I had a purpose. Each day, I looked forward to teaching the children something new. Sometimes I felt I learned more from them than they did from me.

The end of the school year used to be the happiest time for me. That year it became my saddest day. Having to say goodbye to all my tutees was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I did not want to cry, but the harder I fought it, the harder it was for me not to. I was part of something so great, and now I was seeing it end.

I felt depressed because I wished I could somehow continue working with these children because I knew my job wasn’t done. That experience had such an impact on my life that throughout my high school and college years I joined similar programs to keep doing my part in helping children.

In high school I was involved in the PALS program where I was no longer a tutor but a mentor to junior high school kids. Later in college, I joined a program where I worked with the juvenile probation department. I spoke to young people about drugs, gangs and the consequences of making bad decisions – things that I had dealt with as a kid, growing up in the bad part of town.

Through the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program and the other programs I later joined, I felt I was not only protecting these children but also serving my community. I had the opportunity to change the cycle. A lot of people believe that once you grow up in a bad neighborhood surrounded by bad influences, you will become one yourself. It is hard to break that cycle. If it wasn’t for the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program maybe I would have just become another statistic and not the person you see here today.

When you are that age and you are given that type of responsibility, it makes you yearn for more and it makes you want to become something in life.

Now I am a police officer for the city of McAllen, Texas. The best thing about my job is helping those in need. At the end of the day, the arrests and the traffic citations don’t really matter.

Being a police officer means to protect and serve. Helping an old lady cross the street, turning on the vehicle overhead lights for a group of kids who think of you as a superhero. Those are the things that are important. Being there for someone in need and being able to help that person makes my job worthwhile. I strongly believe the Coca­Cola Valued Youth Program is invaluable to the kids and to the community.

Congratulations to IDRA and the Coca-Cola Foundation on your Valued Youth 20th anniversary. You made a change in my life, and I strongly believe it will keep making differences in others.

My job today is to protect and serve. And, now that I think about it, that is something I learned about 10 years ago as an eighth grader in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program.

Pablo López was a Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program tutor in Brownsville, Texas, in 1994. He graduated with honors and received an early graduation scholarship. He has attended the University of Texas in Brownsville and plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Today, he is a decorated police officer in McAllen, Texas. In 2003, he received the “Life Saving Award” for heroic acts in the line of duty. Mr. López is a frequent public speaker to students on the importance of education.

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program – Philosophy

[©2005, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 2005 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]