We visited a lively after-school center in the heart of a rough neighborhood in San Francisco. Children and teens find a safe haven there, locked away from negative outside influences. The kids say the Tenderloin After School Program gives them a chance to choose a bright future.
"When I was in middle school, you get peer pressure from your friends, smoking cigarettes, going out, there's shoplifting," said Tanya Chanthavong from Swinerton Builders.
You would never guess that about Chanthavong when you see her now because she's one of the success stories from the center. She's one of the first faces you see at the prestigious Swinerton Builders company in San Francisco. But she remembers those days, when her family emigrated to the Tenderloin.
"I had a choice," said Tanya.
The young people in the after school program not only have a safe place to do their homework, and enjoy a variety of activities, they're also encouraged to go to college and get a job, and some of them get their first jobs at the center.
Sandra Ortega, 23, and her sister and brother came to the Tenderloin After School Program at a young age. Their parents worked all the time. Elvin Friaz, 26, came to the center as a child, raised by his grandmother. Now, they both work as program assistants at the center.
"It feels good to watch kids grow, to pretty much be there for them," said Friaz.
That's what makes the center so special. It's not about baby-sitting. Don Falk is executive director of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, or TNDC for short. TNDC offers the after school program for free to families as part of its mission. It's created safe, quality low-income housing in the Tenderloin for 30 years.
"We want people to understand the power and that meaning of what our staff offers to the young people," said Falk.
"Ultimately, it's up the kids and the families to determine what they want and how they're going to get there and we just provide them the support," said Laura Choe, a Tenderloin After School Program manager.
Choe has run the after school program for 14 years. Now, Choe's kids are passing on that gift to another generation. Ortega wants to open her own center one day.
"I just want to give back to the kids, the same thing I receive and just make a change in their lives," said Ortega.
Friaz moved out of the tenderloin and got married, but he comes back every day.
Jennings: "You had a choice to stay away, but you didn't."
Friaz: "I couldn't because the after school program is my home."
You can join me this Friday night for the TNDC's 20th anniversary gala.