Meet an Amiga ~ Rachel Youngberg

Meet An Amiga ~ Rachel Youngberg

2017-2019 ADJ & BECA Volunteer

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Ms. Rachel is in her second year of volunteering at Amigos de Jesús. She spent her first year as an Amigos volunteer in multiple different roles including teaching, social media, and librarian.

In her second year, she transitioned to teaching with our partner program, BECA (Bilingual Education for Central America). She now spends full days in the classroom teaching 4th and 5th grade English and science.

Her always positive and bubbly personality brings joy to those around her, especially the girls’ Hogar where she has spent much of her free time these past few years. She is the queen of Zumba and is always ready to dance with the girls, or teach them new steps.

She automatically volunteered to help choreograph any dance the teachers have to do for school presentations! She is a delightful presence to both volunteer communities she has lived in and has a gift for always trying to bring out the best in people, especially her students! 

Read more about Ms. Rachel in her interview below: 

1. Age: 23 years old

2. Hometown: That’s always a tricky question… I grew up as a Coast Guard kid, so I moved every 2-3 years. I ultimately call Sitka, Alaska home since that’s where I lived the longest, but my parents have recently retired in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and that’s where I’ll be moving to next.

3. University: The Catholic University of America (CUA)

4. Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education

5. What is your role at Amigos?

During my first year at Amigos, I served as the English teacher for EducaTodos levels 2, 3 and 6th grade, the librarian, and support for social media and photography. This year, I am the 4th and 5th grade English and science teacher and volunteer with the organization Bilingual Education for Central America (BECA) while still living here at Amigos.

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6. How did you first hear about Amigos de Jesús?

I first heard about Amigos de Jesús on the Catholic Volunteer Network. Amigos immediately piqued my interest because it is a Catholic organization that has a beautiful website, possible teaching positions, community living, and an incredible mission rooted in faith and hope.

7. What were you doing before you came to Amigos?

Before Amigos, I was finishing my degree in Early Childhood Education at CUA, enjoying the end of my time on the ultimate frisbee team (where we qualified to play at nationals for the first time ever! Go Nun Betta!), and falling in love with service through mission trips and work with the Missionaries of Charity.

8. What made you decide to stay for a second year?

Towards the end of my first year, it didn’t feel as though going “home” to Minnesota was an option. Through discernment and prayer, I quickly realized that I had no desire to return back to the states, which left me with two options: extend my time as an Amigos de Jesús volunteer, or serve with BECA for a year. I knew that I wanted to continue learning Spanish and developing the relationships I’d begun to form, but I also felt a tug to try teaching full-time. Once I realized that’s what I wanted to do, BECA felt like the obvious choice, and it was easy to say yes to another year!

9. What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my job is when the lines and barriers come down. When I am no longer their teacher and they are no longer my students, but something silly happens and we are all laughing together as humans.

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Of course, I love it when they run up to me excited about something we are learning and what they’ve done with it. For example, if I ask my students to write a story with five complete sentences, and they are so excited at what they’ve written that they run up to me saying, “Miss, look look! Read it! Is it good? Will you write ‘good job’ on top?!” As a teacher, those moments feel like incredible successes. But, honestly, my favorite moments are the ones that don’t have to do with their education.

The best parts of my job come out when we’re laughing about something that has nothing to do with our “job” titles of teacher and student, and they simply feel loved by me and I feel loved by them. It’s the times you see that a mutual relationship is growing inside AND outside of the classroom—and those moments are incredibly special. They can be as small as laughing over a new game we are all trying to learn together during recess, or as intimate as the first hug I received from a student I’ve struggled with throughout the year. Sharing in joy and love, that’s the best part of my job.

To share a genuine smile or laugh with another soul over a silly something in life is one of the most beautiful and intimate things that I’ve experienced…and gracias a Dios that I have the privilege to share in a special moment of joy almost daily with at least one of the people I get to call my students.

10. Advice to future volunteers or anyone considering applying for long-term service with BECA/Amigos de Jesús?

Please come in with an open heart and mind! This place is incredible and it WILL challenge you, because it’s meant to challenge you. You will come to know yourself like never before, and God will without a doubt mold you into a new, better version of yourself during your time here.

Recently, a very wonderful and wise man reminded me that God is like a patient and gentle surgeon. He takes his tools and very carefully and slowly chips away at and changes the things within you that separate you from Him. However, surgery is painful, and because this surgeon is so patient, your transformation may take some time. When you come here, be prepared to be uncomfortable. Be prepared to feel the pain of Jesus sculpting you into something new.

During this time, you may be confused. When we are in the middle of a transformation, we don’t necessarily understand what’s going on, but believe me—there’s a vision in mind for you and a reason for the surgery! The beautiful, and sometimes difficult, part of it all is that everyone is transforming in their own way alongside you. Volunteers, children, faculty alike are all being worked on by Christ in a very acute way. At times this separates you from others, because you’re at a different place in your transformation, but it can also bond you to another soul in a way unlike anything else.

You have the opportunity to watch other souls grow, especially those of the kids that are coming to learn they are in a safe place where they will no longer be harmed. Growing beside these incredibly strong souls is a blessing that will never be matched, so enjoy your time and let God take control.

11. Can you talk about how you've seen the hogar and/or the kids change during your time as a volunteer?

Oh my goodness can I ever! The hogar changes constantly and makes large decisions seemingly on a whim out of their deep love and concern for the children who live here. I’m thinking specifically of the time a middle school was put together within the time frame of about a month in the middle of the school year.

Under the direction of Amy and Wilson, we as volunteers, school faculty, and hogar workers joined together to make more classrooms, new schedules, and find teachers to make a middle school when Amy and Wilson came to us saying the care and education some students were receiving outside of Amigos was not up to their standards. Out of devotion to the children, everyone worked hard to give them what we believed was the education they deserved.

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Since that time, the Amigos de Jesús Bilingual School has made a full commitment to growing bigger and we now have two new buildings, a new room for the library, and a new landscape at the school! It’s not complete, but it’s coming together beautifully. The hogar also helped support BECA teachers this year by creating a new, separate house for BECA returners and the Amigos volunteer coordinator.

At the same time, they have decided that having the children split up into homes of smaller groups is better for both the madrinas/padrinos and children. There are people hard at work creating new housing for the kids as I write, and many new madrinas and padrinos are being hired in anticipation for that change.

These are only a few of the biggest changes that I’ve seen throughout my time here. It makes it hard to leave when you see so many incredible changes happening constantly—it’s exciting to be a part of it all!

12. What’s something you hope your students take away from your classroom?

I hope that my students take away a new-found sense of confidence in their ability to communicate kindly. Something we’ve recently started in 5th grade is the “Concern Folder.” It is utilized when they feel angry at someone or something going on in the classroom. Instead of yelling in the moment something like, “Miss! He took my pencil!” the students know to try and handle the situation on their own first, and then if the situation does not get better, they are able to quietly get up whenever necessary and go write down a short explanation of whatever is happening and put it in the “Concern Folder.”

Later, during the last class of the day, I take out those slips of paper and students can “conference” in the hallway about what happened in class. They know to use kind words and listen to each other explain how they were both feeling. The students may come get me if they feel it’s necessary, but the conference is not over until the students have decided on a solution for how to move forward in a better way.

It’s been incredible to see how such a simple thing affects the way they communicate with each other and the overall environment of our classroom. I hope they take the skills they are now learning and use them next year in their new classroom!

13. Can you share a favorite teaching moment?

Something I concentrate on as a teacher is inspiring a sense of intrinsic motivation within the students in regards to their behavior and work within the classroom.

In order to do this, I created a “Weekly Goals” chart in the classroom. Every Monday, the students create a new goal for themselves. Many students strive to stay on “blue” (the highest color for best behavior) the entire day, some try to be a good friend, and others commit to following a classroom rule like “I raise my hand to speak.” Whatever the goal is, the students get to pick it, and each day they get a sticker if they feel as though they reached their goal.

One day, as I was reading all the goals aloud, I finished by saying, “Ok everyone, let’s work hard on those goals so we can get our stickers!” And one young girl raised her hand and said, “But Miss we aren’t just doing it for the stickers. We do it to try and be better people and students.”

It was such a wonderfully quick little comment that completely caught me off guard. I knew that as a teacher that’s what I am trying to instill within them, but I had no idea they saw it too. I am so proud of that student’s insight and excited at her sense of pride in personal growth. This class has struggled on and off with acting kindly towards each other, and that one little comment gave me hope that they are growing and learning to love each other correctly.