The caring guidance of afterschool providers helped Houston’s Edgar Gonzalez avoid trouble as a youngster, and he’s been returning the favor ever since.

As a third-grader at Scroggins Elementary School in downtown Houston more than a decade ago, Gonzalez began attending afterschool regularly to avoid going home to an empty home in the afternoons, or worse, to be out on the streets. When he moved on to middle school, he began volunteering at Scroggins. “My bus stop was at Scroggins,” he says. “At first, I’d go by to visit. Then they started giving me things to do to help out. It was a lot better to be there than it was to be outside. So I kept coming.”

In fact, he kept on coming for many years. By the time he was a sophomore in high school, he took a part-time job with the program as a student tutor. After graduating high school, he spent a year volunteering with AmeriCorps in the Harris County Department of Education s Cooperative for After-School Enrichment (CASE) program, working with a range of afterschool programs, including Scroggins’s. “I want to give these kids the chances and opportunities I had,” he told the Houston Chronicle last year, when the newspaper wrote a profile on Gonzalez and his long-term association with afterschool.

After nearly a year with AmeriCorps, Gonzalez took a job in the human relations department of a local company, and he’s now holding down a job and working toward a degree in criminal justice. But before completing his AmeriCorps stint, he gave one more bit of himself to the afterschool programs he credits for keeping him on a path to success at a critical time, by serving as a featured speaker at an October 2007 Lights On Afterschool leadership briefing for policymakers and the media.

Some 250 business and political leaders were at the event, at a downtown hotel. “I’ve never spoken in front of so many people,” Gonzalez said that day. “I wanted to show that afterschool programs can be life-savers, the safest place for kids to be from 3 to 6 p.m., and that it can change kids’ perspective about their future… I want to give these kids the chances and opportunities I had.”
He sees his future career in criminal justice in much the same light. “I’m looking forward to finishing my degree,” he says, “so I can go back and help children. That’s my biggest interest – helping youth in danger, reaching out to those kids on the street who aren’t getting any guidance. That’s what CASE does for children, and what it did for me. It reached out to give me guidance. I’m really grateful for all they did for me. Nina Taylor at the Scroggins program got me involved, and has been a mentor to me ever since. Really all the people at Scroggins and CASE have been just great. I don’t know where I’d be now if it weren’t for them.”

This story originally appeared in the Afterschool Advocate (Vol. 10, Issue 2).