“My Journey” By Erik Manzano

 I went to summer school in 7th, 8th, 9th grades. Those were frustrating and troubling years. I struggled because I wasn’t focused, and school was stripping the confidence out me.  Because of my negative experiences and constant disappointments, I decided that having fun was better than trying to be a better student. I really didn’t know how to turn my academics around.

 I was a member of Restore since 4th grade. Mr. Bagby and Ximena were always telling me that I had potential. I didn’t believe them. My grades and going to summer school every summer were giving me a different message. I can’t really tell you how it happened, but I think as my confidence and abilities increased at Restore, my attitude and drive in school improved.

Needless to say, Restore became my second family. You can be any religion, ethnicity or race and we will welcome you all and love you the same. Every time the door was open, I was there. I went to every field trip and the extra activities. I especially liked being with the older teenagers. They had such confidence and were sure of themselves. The only thing I couldn’t do was to be a part of Restore’s summer program. That really hurt. I thought I was too dumb to pass to the next grade like my friends and had to go to summer school.

 The Restore adults have had and continue to have a heavy influence on me. As a child I would almost never do anything myself. I’ve never did chores and I barely ever touched the dishes at home. Restore helped me become responsible. I’ve matured and learned so much because of the adult’s influence at Restore.  

 My mentor when I was in middle school was Gary Reece. He must be the smartest person alive. What I really admired about him is that he was so patient with all of us. My best friends Jakub, Tony and Richard are super smart. We were assigned to do a castle in 6th grade. Gary had us do much research and discussions that all of us were like experts on castles and medieval life. Our project was to design and build a castle and to present it to our class. Mr. Bagby and a couple of the high school Restore students came during the school day to hear our presentation. Even though I struggled in grades 7-9, I knew in the back of my head that I was not dumb.

  The reading club was something that also helped me a lot as well. I was in the reading club since fourth grade. I liked it. Mr. Bagby made reading fun. He did most of the reading, so I really got to understand what was happening in the stories as I listened to him and other students who were better readers. Eventually I started reading more in the group and on my own. One of the things I remember was reading the Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and going to the play at The Shakespeare’s Theater in Madison, NJ. That was one of the best experiences in my life

There was also a comforting feeling I had when tutors from Phillip66 (formerly ConocoPhillips) helped me with my math homework, they never judged me for not knowing the material, they helped me until I fully understood, and they’d smile because they knew they just helped me get the math concepts. I learned how to play chess from Ethan. Scott would come in a little early and shoot basketball or play soccer with us. They took the drudge and boredom out of learning.

 Going into my sophomore year Restore helped me learn time management. I accomplished my goal and stop using summer school to be going to the next grade. I was able to fully participate in Restore and became a peer leader and volunteered at the summer programs.

 Another thing that amazed me was I discovered my writing talent at Restore. There was an SAT study group taught by another Restore volunteer, Melinda Nye. She was an amazing person to work with.  Melinda helped me and others with English and History assignments in addition to getting us ready to take the SAT. And at times she’d tell us to write about a passage or article we read.  I wrote a story and after she read it, she showed it to Mr. Bagby and told him that I had a gift for writing stories. That was the first time I’ve ever had someone tell me that. I never even thought I was a decent writer. Then Mr. Bagby also told me time and again I was a very good writer. I went on a college weekend with Restore and one of the Restore alumni spoke about his college experiences and gave me a journal. I started writing and haven’t stop. Now in my senior year in high school my English teacher tells me I’m a good writer. She says my writing is original and very descriptive.

My last two years in high school is far better than any. I’m doing better academically, I’m in a play in my Italian class, and I have good rapport with my teachers. I like school. My overall GPA is not the best and I still need a couple of points on my SAT. I take the test again in March. My first-choice college is William Paterson University. If I don’t get in, I’ll go to Union County Community College right here in Elizabeth and volunteer at Restore. I plan to get a degree in Child Psychology with a minor in Creative Writing.

 It has been a long journey from a frustrated, scared kid with no clue about my future to where I am today. All I know is I could not have so much hope for my future if it weren’t for my supportive parents, my Restore friends and all the amazing Restore staff and volunteers who believed in me and saw a hope filled future before I did.