David poses for a photo in the Family Dining Room.

How SVdP helped David "Dream Big"

SVdP's Family Evening Meal and Dream Center are able to help kids grow in many ways

David Manriquez is a sharp kid, but he was struggling for a while in school because he had trouble understanding everything his teachers were going over. Thanks to the help of tutors at St. Vincent de Paul’s Dream Center, part of the Family Evening Meal, David has been excelling at school and bringing smiles to the faces of his tutors and teachers.

David likes to sit and observe. Usually a quieter kid, he sits around people and takes in everything around him. It’s something that has made him one of the smarter kids his age, but he still has challenges, especially with language. At home, his family speaks exclusively Spanish, and his mom, Cruz, is even teaching him how to read it, but at school, he speaks English.

At school, he’s particularly gifted at math. The numbers and equations make sense to him. However, David struggles with reading and writing. When it comes to connecting spoken words to their written form, he often feels stumped – and it was starting to affect his grades.  

“He is such a smart kid. I didn’t know why he was struggling,” Cruz said. She doesn’t speak English, and her language barrier prevented her from being able to help David in a direct way with his schoolwork.  

Cruz, Davids mom, helps David look over his homework.

But it all started to change when David and his mom started coming to SVdP’s Family Evening Meal. Three years ago, they had heard about Family Evening Meal through the community and decided to give it a shot.

Every weeknight, the Family Evening Meal is open to families with children under 18 like David and his mom. Not only does it offer a hot meal for families, but also educational support for kids with tutoring, homework help, and more. The dining room also offers free resources like case management and item distributions. And for parents, there is a sense of friendship and community with other families and volunteers.

Pizza Fridays are particularly special to David, as he gets to indulge in one of his favorite foods.

"I really like the pizza,” he said. “Cheese is my favorite."

Family Evening Meal isn’t just a social and safe space for David and his family, it also provides free tutoring in the Dream Center, and that’s just what he needed to turn things around in school.

Because he’s a shy kid, David didn’t want to ask for help at first, but once he became more comfortable in the Dream Center, thanks to the warmness of its incredible volunteers, his confidence and skill level grew.

Leilani Valenzuela, one of the Dream Center’s volunteer literacy tutors, helped David open up. Because she’s also bilingual and has been coming to the Dream Center since she was a kid, she instantly saw what some of David’s problems were and helped him address them.

Leilani helps David with his homework in the Dream Center.

One of those problems was that he’d see false cognates — words that look similar in Spanish and English but have different meanings — and think they meant the same thing. She helped David differentiate these, as well as helped him to associate the spoken words he knew with the written words he was unfamiliar with.  

“He has come such a long way. I'm so proud of him,” Leilani said. “There are still struggles here and there, but he's done so much better.”

Even David has noticed the difference when he comes in for tutoring.  

“When I get help with homework, it makes me feel better. It makes me feel like if I try this assignment, I’m going to give it to my teacher and she’s going to say, ‘Good job!’” David said.

For Leilani, it’s important to her to help the kids in these situations, as it calls back to her own childhood of coming to the Dream Center.

“I see myself a lot in these kids, like when I was younger, just because I did not have that help,” she said. “I want to give that to those kids.”

Leilani said she sees a bright future for David and has no doubts that he’ll be top of his class someday. 

Help kids like David Dream Big

Provide educational support for kids in need by donating to the Dream Big Campaign this month. Gifts made before April 30 will be matched up to $50,000.

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