Corona, Calif. — Although Maria is halfway through high school, like millions of other students across the country, she has spent very little time actually at her school, Corona High. The pandemic lockdown hit in the spring of her freshman year, and Maria was sent home to learn through a computer screen. Suddenly separated from the hustle and bustle of school and stuck at home with no end in sight, Maria realized that her high school experience would be very different from what she had always imagined.
Maria, who has always been a people person, missed seeing her friends in the hallways and classrooms. While she stayed in contact with her best friends through texts and calls, she missed spending in-person time with them and with other students outside of her immediate circle. She took online courses every day with her classmates, but there was never time to chat.
With the whole world shut down, somehow Maria was busier than ever. On top of her own schoolwork, she often had to take care of her younger brothers and make sure they stayed focused on their online classes. She also had to help her mom around the house – after school chores had suddenly become all-day chores. Partway through the pandemic, Maria started having practice for the tennis team again, but every drill and workout was clouded by COVID precautions. Throughout it all, she worried that she or her family would get sick. She felt simultaneously lonely, anxious, and overburdened.
After eight months of lockdown, Maria’s mom noticed a flyer for a local event that she thought might be fun for her daughter. Maria and her family live in National CORE’s affordable housing community of Corona de Oro, where Hope through Housing provides supportive services and programming for children and adults. The event was a Thanksgiving cooking class for Hope through Housing’s Teen Club program. Since cooking is one of Maria’s favorite hobbies, she decided to go. As she and a few other masked teenagers learned to make pudding together, Maria was surprised to find that the experience felt like school, in a good way.
Over the next few weeks, Maria kept returning to the club, drawn by the communal feeling that she had missed since the start of the pandemic. As the weeks went on, she noticed that even the shyest members of the group started to open up. “We all formed friendships, we all talked, and we had meaningful discussions,” Maria said.
Soon, for safety reasons, Teen Club became online only, with meetings held on Zoom. But Maria still felt excited to log on to the meetings every Tuesday. With the rest of her week consumed by online classes, tennis practice, chores, and her responsibilities as the oldest child, Maria said “it was kind of that hour of the day where I could just not worry about that stuff and talk to people and just get my mind off it.”
Maria found that Teen Club was a place where she could learn life skills and helpful tips, including techniques for better time management and sleep.
“We also talked about mental health issues, finance, a lot of stuff that they don’t really teach you at school,” Maria said. Because mental health is a topic not frequently talked about in Maria’s family, she said “it was really good to have a space to talk about it and know that it is real.”
Although Teen Clubs across National CORE’s communities are currently on break for the summer, Maria said she is looking forward to her club starting again. She has already signed up to be a Teen Club ambassador for next year. As an ambassador, Maria will help recruit and welcome new teen members, lead a few activities, and be a role model for teens on the Corona properties.
Teen Club is part of Hope through Housing’s Building Bright Futures initiative, which seeks to address the academic and social needs of children living in poverty. There is currently a teen club at 10 of National CORE’s communities but Hope through Housing is working to expand the program in the LA area and eventually expand the program to all National CORE communities. If you would like to support Teen Club, please consider donating to the Building Bright Futures initiative.
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About National Community Renaissance (National CORE)
National Community Renaissance, based in Southern California, is one of the nation’s largest nonprofit developers of affordable housing. National CORE manages nearly 9,000 affordable, senior, and market-rate units in California, Texas, and Florida. National CORE’s strength is in its ability to offer partners an array of in-house capabilities that navigates the complexities of planning, developing, building, managing, and providing supportive services. For more information on National CORE, please visit www.nationalcore.org.
About Hope through Housing
Hope through Housing believes that affordable housing can be a platform for transformational change at the individual and neighborhood level. For more than 20 years, the Hope through Housing Foundation has provided more than 2 million hours of transformational social services helping children and teens achieve success, improving families’ financial well-being, and promoting seniors’ health and wellness. For more information on Hope through Housing, please visit www.hthf.org.