Padrino Antonio has always had a passion for working with kids. He thought this would one day lead him to become a teacher -- until an opening for a position as a full-time caretaker at Amigos de Jesús fell into his lap in 2011 and changed his path. Padrino Antonio says that in the end, he couldn't love his job more, and that in his time at Amigos, he has learned more about working with children, about God, and about himself than he could have in any other job. We are blessed to have Padrino Antonio's enthusiasm, positivity, and unconditional love for the kids as part of the Amigos de Jesus family. Padrino Antonio's love for Amigos can be summed up in the following quote, "Everyone always talks about hard days on the job. Hands down, the hardest day of my job will be the day I have to walk out of these gates for good."
Read below to learn more about this awesome member of the Amigos family!
- Hometown: Protección, Santa Barbara, Honduras
- Joined the Amigos de Jesus family in: 2011
- How did you first hear about Amigos de Jesus?
Profe Osman (the principal of the Amigos de Jesus School) is actually my nephew, though I am only a couple of years older than him. We were best friends growing up and we both ended up earning teaching degrees. I went on to teach night classes for awhile and Osman became a volunteer teacher here at the Amigos de Jesus School. After a year of teaching, he became the principal of the school, and not long after that, a padrino (caretaker) position opened up on the hogar (home) side of Amigos. I still remember the day he called me to tell me about the position. What he told me on the phone is that he thought the job would be perfect for me, but I think he was also thinking it would be nice for him to have a family member living out here with him, since Amigos is about an hour and a half from our hometown and the rest of our family.
I think us living here together is one of the reasons we have both been able to stay at Amigos as long as we have. Most of the workers here do not have that same luxury. Amigos is in a very rural area and so many of the padrinos and staff come from far away. It's not easy to live at your job full-time. But for me, it's worth it!
- You have been at Amigos longer than almost all of our other current padrinos. How has Amigos changed since you first arrived?
First, I want to say that here at Amigos de Jesus, I have lived the best experiences of my life. Truly, the best. I have learned, trusted, and grown so much.
That being said, when I first got to Amigos in 2011, the work was completely different than it is today. Amy, Wilson, and Suyapa were still fairly new to Amigos at that time and the structure of the padrino job was very difficult. We worked many hours and were very tired. The job itself was difficult to perform to the ability we wanted. Of course, there were also many less kids at that time, too, so the drive to create a solid structure wasn't as pressing as it is now that we have grown.
I just have to give the biggest thanks to Amy, Wilson, and Suyapa because I feel that in my time here, I have been able to see the fruits of all of the ideas they had when they came and the work they put in to make a change here. Amigos de Jesus has changed, and it has changed for the better -- in the kids, in the workers, in the school, in the way the organization works as a whole. I always make sure to tell current padrinos about how things used to be and how thankful we must be for the work we have now. Today, as padrinos we are blessed.
One of the many things I have appreciated in my time as a padrino are the trainings, retreats, and conferences I have been able to attend. Last year, I attended a conference led by a woman from the U.S. who has her Ph.D. in working with children who have experienced trauma. I learned so much from that training, and I have worked hard to put it into practice. I had always wanted to be a teacher, but I am positive I have learned more about working with children int he position I have now than I ever could have as a teacher.
- How has your personal role at Amigos changed since you first arrived?
Today, I'm the padrino for Hogar 4, which is a dorm of 16 boys ages 6-17. Back when I first arrived, Amigos was still an all-boys home, and the 7 dorm buildings we have today weren't built yet. All of the boys lived in the two rooms on both sides of the comedor (cafeteria), and we padrinos rotated through shifts in both dorms. Later, Amigos began to receive girls and the new dorm buildings were built. The kids were then divided among the 7 dorms by age and gender. At that time, I was put with the 'chiquitos,' the youngest kids at Amigos (ages 2-6).
Later, I became the Padrino Coordinator, which was one of the greatest experiences of my life and also one of the biggest learning experiences. Wilson was a very helpful mentor for me during this time. In January 2015, the kids were moved to "family style" dorms of mixed ages, and I became the padrino for my boys in Hogar 4, where I still am today.
Aside from these professional positions, Amigos has also changed me on a personal level. Even the kids tell me this. Some of the older boys who still remember when I came, they tell me, "Padrino, when you first came, you were boring. Now you are fun." During my time here, I have learned to be less uptight and just go with the flow and truly enjoy everything the kids are. I have learned what kinds of activities work for the kids and what ones don't. I have learned how to plan fun activities for them, guide them, and discipline them in a way that is enjoyable for both them and me.
- Another job you have stepped into during your time at Amigos is being the "unofficial barber" for the boys. How did that come about?
Well, believe me, when I first came, I knew only a very little bit about cutting hair. I had done a couple of buzz cuts before, but that was it. However, at that time, I knew more than any of the other padrinos who were here, so they put me in charge of cutting the boys' hair. Honestly, it was a little bit of a "fake it 'til you make it" deal. Of course, I never told any of the boys that I didn't have much experience, because you know how much pride they take in their hair. Thankfully I never messed anyone's hair up too badly, and they continued coming back to me.
Over time, as I got more comfortable with the razor, I began experimenting beyond buzz cuts, and now one of my favorite things to do is play around with different styles on the kids. The most popular style the kids are asking for right now is to have their hair short on the sides and long on top. Sometimes I will shave some lines or designs on the side, as well, if they ask for it. I think it is a nice thing for them to be able to describe exactly the hairstyle they want, and get it. It's something personal and unique to them that makes them feel good.
- Who have been some of your biggest role models during your time at Amigos de Jesus?
There are so many people who I look up to here at Amigos. I have to say that Amy, Wilson, and Suyapa have inspired me so much. I am someone who has always had a bit of a hard time with change, and when those three came to Amigos, they had many ideas for changes. It was always a little difficult for me to adjust at first. But the words I will always hear Amy saying in my head are, "Change is a good thing!"
And after so many years of seeing the goodness that has come from all the changes they have made, my attitude toward change is completely different. Now, whenever I hear a new change is coming, I go into it full-force, and I try to encourage the newer padrinos to do the same. Amigos wouldn't be what it is today without all of the changes we have gone through here. I am forever grateful to those three for helping me grow and Amigos grow in that way.
Two of the biggest people who inspire me at Amigos have been Fr. Dennis and Patricio ("Pato"). I still remember the first time I heard Fr. Dennis preach. I went home and told my brother, "There is a priest at the place I work where, when he is around, God is there. He barely speaks Spanish, but I feel like I can understand everything he says." And now Pato has the same thing. When you see him, you can just feel God. It radiates out of him. Pato has given me so much guidance and opened my eyes to seeing God work in my own life. Catholicism has always been my religion, but my time here has led me to really embrace it again in a new way. My spiritual life has changed completely because of both of these two.
- What is one lesson you have learned during your time at Amigos?
I remember being on a retreat once not too long after I arrived, and they taught us the prayer, "Lord, be in my words." That prayer has been one of the most helpful things in my time at Amigos. With our kids' backgrounds, there are many times I am faced with situations where I have no idea what to say. I have used the prayer in tough conversations with some of our older boys or in moments of frustration with the kids. Before I respond to them, I stop and pray, "Lord, be in my words." It has profoundly changed my work here and the connections I have been able to make with the kids.
- What is the biggest lesson you have learned from the kids at Amigos?
The kids have taught me how to live and love freely. There are so many times when I just stop and look at the kids and think, "How beautiful it is to be a child." The kids here have been through so much, yet they laugh and love and hug and smile, sometimes over the smallest of things. We as adults can be so serious. We have much to learn from children.
- What is your favorite part of being a padrino?
Wow, that's a terribly difficult question. How can I ever choose? Seriously, I love everything about my job. I love what I do, I live what I do. Everything about this place and this job is my favorite thing. But I guess if I had to pick what's at the center of my love for it all, it's the kids. Being surrounded by kids. For some reason, it's something I've always kind of had about me. When I go home, the kids in my neighborhood always tend to hang around me, whether I'm in my yard or walking around. The people in my hometown call me a magnet for kids. Being able to work at a job where I am surrounded by kids all the time and have such a profound influence on them....nothing could be more fulfilling.
- What is one of your favorite memories from your time at Amigos de Jesus?
One of the biggest memories that will always mark my time at Amigos is when Oscarito lived with us. He was just the frailest child I had ever seen, yet in his final days at Amigos, we were able to see on his face such joy and love. We all smiled when he smiled and spent so many beautiful moments with him. I will never forget that time.
Another memory that happened more recently is when I took two of the younger boys in my dorm to my house for a weekend earlier this year. It was sort of one of those wake-up moments when I realized just how much I really am a part of my boys' lives. The boys played with all of my nieces, nephews, and neighbor kids when we were there. But the moment that touched me the most was when they started calling my siblings "aunt" and "uncle." My siblings went along with it and treated them both as another one of the nieces and nephews. Then one day, about a month after we got back, one of the boys came up to me and said, "Padrino, when am I going to see my cousins?" Confused, I said, "What cousins do you mean?" And he started listing off the names of all of my nieces and nephews. It was just one of those moments that hits you in the heart. How can I possibly leave these kids when they have already been left once in their lives? I feel such a pull to be here, to see them grow, and to help them learn to trust and love again.
- What is one hope you have for the future of Amigos de Jesus?
The first hope I have is to see one of our girls graduate from university. Last year, we saw our first boy graduate, and I can't wait for the day we can see the first girl. I try to encourage the girls as much as I can, since you know, we have a problem in Honduras with women not always continuing their education. So I try as much as I can to always tell the girls, "Picture yourself right now going to university. Think about how much pride you are going to have one day saying, 'I am a college graduate.'" And I try to let them know how proud it will make me personally the day I see one of them graduate. I want them to stay motivated, because our girls really are so smart.
The second hope I have is to see my youngest boys grow and learn to become secure in themselves. They are still so scared at this moment of being abandoned. Everytime I leave, my youngest boys ask me, "Padrino, are you leaving forever?" And I always tell them, "No, I'm coming back. This is just for my break." But the fear in their eyes when I leave is something that is always hard. I hope that I can be here and see them grow up, so that they know someone is here for them, really and truly. Everyone needs that in their life.
The final hope I have is to one day expand my work with our older boys with special needs who live independently in the nearby town. That group of guys is so much fun. I love spending time with them, and honestly, whenever I do, they always make me feel just like "one of the guys" among them. I still remember the day I realized that they enjoyed my presence as much as I enjoy theirs. On that day, I had stopped by their house without warning. Normally I always let them know I was coming, and normally when I was at their house, it had always seemed fairly clean to me. Well, that day, when I walked in, the house was a total mess. When I asked them what was going on, they all looked sheepishly at me and said, "Padrino, when we know you're coming we always want to make sure it's clean for you." You know, and beyond that, whenever they are at Amigos, I always have them over to Hogar 4 to hang out with my boys in there. I think it's great both for them and the Hogar 4 boys. The boys, especially the younger ones, really do enjoy spending time with them, and for them it is another small family of belonging. Some of the younger kids in the dorm have started calling some of them "padrino," and whenever they haven't been around in awhile, the boys will start asking, where are our other padrinos?
Really, one of my biggest hopes would be to one day get some type of training in working with people with special needs, and even beyond that I have always thought it would be amazing to one day be able to move into the house with those guys. You can just see their faces light up when someone takes the time to care for them and give them a deep love and respect. I would just love to continue working with them.