The assignment probably seemed like a piece of cake to most high school students: Plan your dream wedding.
But for Hawa Abdi, a Somalian refugee at West High, the homework for her adult-roles class was perplexing. She was surprised by how much money is spent on weddings in the United States, and she was unsure how to answer a question about which restaurant she would pick for a wedding breakfast.
So, as she did routinely after school during her senior year, she went to the Capitol West Boys & Girls Club in Salt Lake City for help.
"I asked her, 'What restaurant do you like to go to?' She said, 'I never ate at a restaurant,' " recalls Maren Miller, director of the Capitol West Club. "She had to plan this really elaborate, Western-style wedding with nothing she would do in her own culture."
Abdi is one of 57 high school seniors who graduated from high school this year with a helping hand from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake. The organization boasts that its graduation rate for students who are active members is 98 percent. The clubs, three in Salt Lake City and one in Tooele, serve low-income and minority youths who are at greater risk of dropping out.
In 2010, the graduation rate for Salt Lake City School District was 72 percent for all students and 61 percent for economically disadvantaged ones. At Abdi's school, West High, the graduation rate was 84 percent and 82 percent, respectively, for those groups.
"A lot of kids come to us because they don't have a computer at home, their parents may not speak English as a first language or their parents may work a lot and not have very much time to spend on homework," says Allison Barclay, vice president of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake. "One of the main ways we help kids is by providing guidance. That's a big piece of our mission providing an additional caring adult in the life of a child."
Abdi, who moved to Utah when she was 13, discovered the Boys & Girls Club during her senior year and became a regular visitor. She was determined to graduate from high school on time, but knew she needed help. She had to complete two courses with take-home packets. She needed tutoring in math and help with her English skills.
Three or four months before graduation, she learned she could get a "service learning" designation with her diploma if she volunteered for 150 hours a requirement that most students spread out over their high school careers, Miller notes. Abdi completed those hours at the club, playing sports with younger children and helping them with their homework. Because the kids had a hard time saying "Hawa," she became known as "the girl in the long dress."
"When I move, I'm going to miss the club. I made a lot of friends," says 18-year-old Abdi, who will attend Green River Community College in Washington this fall. "If you go to college, you can get a great job. â¦ I want to be a nurse."
Like Abdi, Jesse Enriquez is the first in his family to graduate from high school and attend college. Enriquez began hanging out at the Capitol West club in elementary school. Enriquez, 18, graduated from West High this spring with a 3.85 GPA and a full-ride scholarship to Utah State University. He wants to be a civil engineer.
He remembers when he was an elementary student being taught at the Boys & Girls Club how to stay on task. At times, staffers would have to direct him back to his homework when he was caught sneaking off to the basketball court.
"I didn't really like that at first, but I knew that would help me," Enriquez says. "It taught me to stay on track with time management. And hard work pays off."
O Find more information about the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake. > bgcgsl.org
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