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Teen Face: Volunteer finds a job with Boys & Girls Club

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Hanging out all afternoon with two dozen first-graders is not what many 18-year-old junior college students would consider a good time.

For Maria Villagomez, a Roseland resident and Elsie Allen High School graduate, it’s a job and a delight.

“I love to be around kids,” she said, sitting at a low, pint-sized table in the Boys & Girls Club room at Roseland Elementary School. “I like interacting with them. Their imagination is pretty wild.”

As a Boys & Girls Club program coordinator, Villagomez takes charge of about 26 first-graders after their regular school day ends at 2:20 p.m. and shepherds them through a series of activities — including homework, art, recreation and a variety of classes including cooking without a kitchen — until about 5:30 or 6 p.m.

About 600 students from kindergarten through eighth grade are enrolled in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Sonoma County after-school programs at all five campuses in the Roseland School District, part of the club’s presence at 19 schools from Rohnert Park to the north county.

Villagomez, who enrolled at Santa Rosa Junior College this fall, got involved in an after-school tutoring program called “Cool School” as a freshman at Elsie Allen. A teacher said that community service would look good on her college application, and Villagomez chose the Roseland School because her sister, Amy, was a first-grader at the time.

But the experience resonated with her. “It was nice to know I was making a difference in a child’s life, even if it was just helping them with homework,” she said, speaking softly and wearing blue jeans with a purple Boys & Girls Club hoodie.

Villagomez continued volunteering with the Boys & Girls Club program at Roseland for the next three years, and was hired as a paid staffer in August, taking charge of her flock of first-graders.

Kids that age can be difficult at times, but Villagomez said she has a knack for dealing with them.

“I think it’s just seeing the problem from their own viewpoint and trying to work around it,” she said. “Remembering that you were once a kid.”

The youngsters “can also be delightful,” she said.

Rebecca Matlick, the club’s Roseland and Bellevue school districts director, said that Villagomez became a skilled volunteer during her high school years.

“She worked her way in to where she was an integral part of the team,” Matlick said. “When she wasn’t here we could feel her absence.”

Villagomez comes across as “a bit shy” among club staffers, but with kids “she’s anything but; she’s a go-getter” who performs “like a seasoned pro,” Matlick said.

Villagomez, who compiled a 3.0 academic average at Elsie Allen, is taking general education classes at SRJC and intends to transfer to a UC school in two years, majoring in chemistry or biology. Her career goal is to become a pediatrician, combining her interest in health with her affection for children.

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