Reynolds student understands the difficulties facing children in transition

Six-year old Shadia Reyes-Vargas’ looked around the classroom her first day of school and found nothing familiar.

The sea of faces weren’t like hers. She had no idea what cubbies or coat hooks were used for. And she learned the hard way that lunches belonging to others weren’t hers for the taking.

Shadia couldn’t speak a word of English.

And she didn’t have a friend in the world.

Now 17 years old and a junior at Reynolds High School, Shadia calls her first few months in an American school “scary,” but says they have served as a foundation in her life.

“It taught me a lot of life lessons,” she said. “It was hard but I’m glad it happened like it did because it’s made me the way I am today.”

Behind her dancing brown eyes and engaging dimples, is a wise soul. Those early days in elementary school taught her that children thrust into new and sometimes difficult situations, flourish if they are treated with compassion and love.

She lives up to her family’s nickname of “Hummingbird,” by flitting among volunteer opportunities where she can give her heart and soul to children.

Born in Mexico, Shadia spent her pre-school years on her grandparent’s farm outside the village of Ixtapa, southwest of Mexico City. She was surrounded by a bevy of animals and learned to be a “good person” in a circle of extended family.

In 2002, Shadia came to the United States to join her parents, who had emigrated from Mexico four years earlier. Shadia’s mother, Marbella, immediately set out to teach her first-born English. She immersed Shadia in Disney-based interactive workbooks and DVDs that taught numbers, colors and basic reading skills.

“It was like Rosetta Stone only with Disney,” Shadia explained, laughing. “It was sort of painful really and I hated it. I was so happy when I finally finished and was fluent in English. I still don’t like Disney characters.”

After several relocations in the metro area, Shadia and her two younger brothers settled in Gresham with their mother a few years ago. In July 2011, Shadia started volunteering in the childcare center at My Father’s House four hours a week, on the recommendation of a friend.

She quickly discovered a passion for playing and reading to the toddlers, but found the time conflicted with her commitments to the dance team at Reynolds. She chose to leave the dance team and now spends nearly eight hours a week at the shelter, calling it her “home away from home.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Shadia Reyes-Vargas spends more than eight hours a week as a volunteer in the childcare center at My Father´s House.

“I would rather be here than anywhere else,” she said. “It’s hard sometimes, because I’ve gotten attached to some of the kids and then, their family moves. It makes me happy when they leave, but it’s hard to say goodbye. I just pray they go on to better things.”

In the spring and fall last year, Shadia volunteered to be an outdoor school counselor. Her own experience at the week-long educational camp was “great,” she said, adding that her counselors became the role models she drew from with her own charges.

“I wanted to give back and make sure the kids had as great an experience as I had,” she said. “Outdoor school was a turning point for me. It made me realize I could make an impact on the kids by making them feel comfortable in new situations. They came in wanting to impress everyone and not interested in making new friends. But I got to see another side of them come out and they left a different person.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Shadia Reyes-Vargas credits those who helped her integrate into a new culture for her passion to help other children.

Integrating into a new culture and grateful to those who helped her along the way, Shadia is a model for the adage, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

She intends to pay that kindness forward, fulfilling a promise she made to herself when she was 7 years old.

“Growing up, I wanted to be somebody in the world and make a difference,” she said. “I wanted to be a doctor for a long time, but now I know I want to work with kids. I’m just not sure how yet. Everyone is unique in their own way and no two people are the same. That’s why I want to help people.”

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