Refugee-turned-scholar now helping others through children's resource center

  • Denise Umubyeyi, a Rwandan refugee, benefited from Glen Ellyn Children's Resource Center programs when she was a middle school student. Now a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she serves on the center's board.

    Denise Umubyeyi, a Rwandan refugee, benefited from Glen Ellyn Children's Resource Center programs when she was a middle school student. Now a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she serves on the center's board. Courtesy of Denise Umubyeyi

  • The Glen Ellyn Children's Resource Center currently offers literacy programs and homework help in two locations. Planning is under way for a third site.

    The Glen Ellyn Children's Resource Center currently offers literacy programs and homework help in two locations. Planning is under way for a third site. Courtesy of the Glen Ellyn Children's Resource Center

  • Staff and volunteers at the Glen Ellyn Children's Resource Center work with low-income and academically at-risk students after school to improve their literacy skills.

    Staff and volunteers at the Glen Ellyn Children's Resource Center work with low-income and academically at-risk students after school to improve their literacy skills. Courtesy of the Glen Ellyn Children's Resource Center

 
By Denise Umubyeyi
Glen Ellyn
Updated 4/25/2016 10:36 AM

I am a member of the board of directors of the Glen Ellyn Children's Resource Center, a volunteer-driven after-school tutoring and mentoring program. I am also a former recipient of the center's extraordinary services, having come to the United States as a refugee from Rwanda more than 10 years ago. I would like to share my story.

Following the Rwandan genocide in 1994, my family traveled through three African countries before finally being selected to come to Chicago. I was 13 years old, and though I had never read an entire book nor written a full sentence, I had been at the top of my class in Zambia. Here, enrolled at Hadley Junior High School, I was at the bottom. I was really struggling.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

My parents cared deeply about my education but did not have the ability to help me. One day while I was playing outside the Parkside Apartments, a kind woman introduced herself and asked if I knew of the tutoring services offered by children's resource center. I did not. She explained their wonderful programs to me and asked me to join; I did, and my academic life took off. After-school homework help, advocates for my learning, and summer enrichment opportunities were provided. I progressed from an English Language Learners program at Hadley to Advanced Placement classes at Glenbard West High School, where I spoke at my Senior Honors Convocation. I am now a proud graduate of Notre Dame. There is no doubt that the support I received at GECRC over many years was critical to my success.

Many students from low-income and refugee families do not have parents at home or older siblings who can help them with their homework or advocate for their learning. This does not mean parents do not care -- they do, very much. But they are working multiple jobs or unable to help due to their own limited educational background. This is why programs like the children's resource center are so essential. They fill a critical need, providing that extra support children need to achieve their full potential.

While at Notre Dame, I worked with an after-school program similar to GECRC and completed my thesis on these types of tutoring and mentoring programs after three years of study, graduating in May 2014. My goal is to use my education to advance the cause of those whose background is similar to mine. Joining the GECRC board is my way of paying it forward so other children are empowered like I was to succeed.

There is a great need for programs like GECRC in DuPage County, and we are making plans to expand to Churchill Elementary School in Glen Ellyn so even more students can benefit from our programs. Proceeds from the DuPage Human Race will support these efforts.

More information about GECRC is available at gecrc.com. I look forward to running the DuPage Human Race on April 30 and invite you to join us. Together we make a difference.

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