As 13-year-old Yaahjairi Blas prepares to enter the eighth grade at Young Oak Kim Academy this fall, she has one goal and only one goal in mind for her final year of middle school: to graduate with honors.
Not long ago, this would have been virtually impossible for the shy, soft-spoken native of Guadalajara, Mexico who was failing sixth grade English due to the language barrier.
“Even though I tried really hard to do well in every subject, reading and writing were always a problem for me,” she said. “Reading in front of the whole class was embarrassing because I’d be so afraid the other kids might correct my mistakes or start teasing me about it.”
When Yaahjairi’s mother noticed her daughter’s slipping grades and withdrawn attitude towards school, she immediately sought assistance from United Way partner Heart of Los Angeles where staff members devised a winning game plan for turning those Cs, Ds and Fs into As and Bs within a matter of months.
“They helped me overcome my fears by treating me like a grown-up and letting me make my own decisions,” she said. “Now I can choose the books that I think are interesting to read out loud before writing about what I’ve learned and if I get anything wrong, they’ll just keep showing me how to do it until I get it right.”
Upon graduating from high school with flying colors, Yaahjairi hopes to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from USC which will one day allow her to build her parents the kind of home they’ve been dreaming of.
According to Executive Director Tony Brown, the extensive collaboration between United Way and HOLA was the key to unlocking her inner potential.
“We are so grateful for our longstanding partnership with United Way of Greater L.A.,” he said. “Its continued support of our middle school academic and enrichment program furthers our efforts to break the generational cycle of poverty. Together, we’re creating pathways out of poverty for thousands of students in this community.”