Award of Excellence: SHINE Program Boys & Girls Center
The Housing Authority of the City of Yuma (HACY) wins a 2019 Award of Excellence in Resident and Client Services for the SHINE Mentor program, which provides high school students the ability to earn college credit through an after-school leadership program. Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.
Michael Morrissey, executive director of HACY and professor at Arizona Western College, formed the Sports Helping Influence Neighbor Excellence (SHINE) program to provide after-school programming for students in traditionally low-income neighborhoods, so SHINE started by offering after-school sports for elementary school students, but later grew because of enthusiasm from middle and high school students who wanted to help coach the younger kids.
“These older students kept coming back to help with assignments with the kids,” Program Director of the SHINE program Luz Acosta said. “So they started to build a mentoring relationship with them.”
To meet this demand, SHINE added a mentor and leadership training component to its program a few years ago. A partnership with the Arizona Western College allowed high school students the opportunity to receive college credit, at no cost, through a course taught by Morrissey. The one semester course is spilt up throughout the entire school year, and students are eligible to take four courses during their high school career. A first-of-its-kind mentor program for the city of Yuma, SHINE provides students with college credit as well as the opportunity to earn up to one hundred community service hours, become certified mentors, attend a local prestigious award ceremony, and participate in an annual community project.
“The kids really love what they learn,” Acosta said. “They are learning leadership skills and communications skills they can use in real life, with their teachers, friends and parents.”
Each year the students in the program’s cohort take courses after-school, conduct workshops for the younger students and participate in a community project. The skills taught include mentor leadership, character education, and human relations.
In 2018 the students hosted Yuma’s First International Peace Conference with more than 60 community stakeholders. Students from both Yuma and the neighboring city of Rio Colorado Sonora, Mexico took part in the event. Students gave presentations focused on communications skills, shared messages of peace and peace-inspired artwork and encouraged the community to be peace ambassadors for both cities and countries. The Mayor of Yuma, Douglas Nicholls, attended the event and proclaimed the day as the city’s “Day of Peace.” Last year’s community project involved students teaching leadership and mentoring workshops to local chapters of the Boy Scouts.
Acosta said that there are few options for young people in Yuma to participate in enriching educational programs outside of terms of after-school clubs. This is where the SHINE program comes in.
“The other programs in our city are costly, which for our low-income families it would cost an arm and leg to attend,” she said. “So, this is a great opportunity to offer free college credit. There is no other program like it.”
This past February the SHINE program again expanded as it adopted the Boys and Girls Center in Yuma. The program, now referred to formally as the SHINE Program Boys & Girls Center, continues to teach students character education and the importance of physical fitness and nutrition, just in its new location. The mentorship program continues to remain popular with last year’s class size at about 20 students. With the adoption of the Boys and Girls Center, SHINE students now have access to a STEM lab, an art and homework room, a library, gym and theater. The extra space is proving helpful to allow for social distancing as students return to campus amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Acosta, who’s been with the program since its inception, said she’s seen the impacts of SHINE from day one. She remembers one student, Gabriela Tumbaga, who joined when she was in elementary school and stayed with the program until she graduated high school. She’s now a junior at Georgetown University.
“She was from a low-income background, a single-family household,” Acosta said. “She was one of those students that just kept coming back year after year. She credits a lot of her success to SHINE and even invited us all to her high school graduation.”
Now while attending college, Gabriela continues to return to the SHINE program in Yuma to assist in mentoring the next generation of students. Her success story is one of many. The SHINE program has served more than a thousand students throughout the city of Yuma and hopes to serve even more in the coming years.