For decades, EVkids was a safety net for Jenn Paradiso. When her daughter was born, turning Jenn into a mom at just 17, it was her EVcorps tutor Elena Chavez who visited her and newborn Isabellah. When she needed a job and a place to live, it was EVkids co-founder Marie-Claude who helped her get into JobCorps. Even now, her memories of EVkids and her enduring connections to the community are a source of peace that she draws on during difficult times.
Jenn was in the Tutoring program from 1997 when she was in 7th grade through her high school career, ending in 2001. Jenn remembers her tutor, Elena, as one person who for four years not only did her homework with her, but laughed with her, cried with her, and supported her beyond the reaches of just a tutor. The constant support of Elena and other members of the EVkids community, such as Marie-Claude, helped foster in Jenn a respect and fondness for education; and she went back to school and earned her GED after the birth of her daughter. Today, after also earning two Bachelor’s degrees, she works for a a 9-1-1 dispatching company and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican History at Southern New Hampshire University. Jenn finds that education fulfills something in her, and the programs she was a part of with EVkids helped to create a lifelong love of learning.
At the end of every school semester, when the yellow buses closed their doors and the EVkids van stopped coming around, Jenn came to find contentment in another aspect of the EVkids community: EVkids Camp. Surrounded by nature, unplugged from television and phones, and bonding with both campers and counselors, Jenn learned how to find peace in her surroundings. Today she reminisces that camp taught her to value herself, to believe in herself and in her community, as well as how to truly become a part of that community. She still has distinct memories of getting up early, sing-alongs, performances, and talks with her camp counselors, and she still feels love for all of it — except for the bugs.
The influence and the strength of the EVkids community has been with Jenn her entire life. Her father, aunt, and uncle (Armando, Angelica, and Manuel Delgado) all attended EVkids Camp in its early years, when they were kids. Jenn, her siblings, and her cousins followed the older generation to the EVkids Camp farmhouse in Vermont, and then went one step farther and became tutees as well as campers. Jenn has now continued this legacy with her own family. Even though she describes her life as “organized chaos,” due to a 9th grader starting high school, a 3rd grader, and her youngest beginning kindergarten, she still enjoys taking her family out hiking and walking to feel a peace and connection to nature like she felt at Camp.
Jenn can especially share that connection with her daughter Bella, now 14-years-old, who became a third-generation camper when she attended Session 2 this summer. It was as if Bella was a seasoned camper from the beginning when she sat down around the fire with her ukulele for a sing-along and already knew all the camp songs, just from having grown up with her mother. Bella also shot bull’s-eyes in archery and won a medal in the EVkids Olympics. She enjoyed getting to know her counselors; they became an example and inspiration for her. They excited her about her future college career and inspired her to want to come back as a counselor, supporting young campers the way her family was supported.
For Jenn, Camp was safety and a step away from a difficult life. For her daughter Bella, it is a step up and a chance to explore a whole new world. Bella seized the opportunities offered by Camp and, toward the end of the session, wrote an original song that she performed in front of campers and counselors. Bella stepped out of her shell, using Camp as an chance to grow. When Jenn thinks and talks about EVkids Camp, she says she can still see the green of the fields and smell the fresh air of the mountains. She found a peace and safe haven in the vast Green Mountains of Vermont and the EVkids community that has lasted her whole life. A community that has been a support, a safe haven, and now an opportunity and inspiration; a community that lasts more than a lifetime, supports those who need it, and then lifts them up.