When Jeyma Garcia attended Highland Middle School, she was quiet, reserved and very lonely and depressed.
Having come to the United States from Mexico during the 2009-10 school year, English was her second language and she found it hard to open up and make real friends.
“I didn’t care about myself or my body or anything,” Garcia recalled. “Sometimes I wouldn’t eat and I would hurt myself.”
But instead of exhibiting typical signs that she needed help – having outbursts in class or getting in trouble – she kept to herself, got good grades and let her depression build up.
That is, until Jubilee Reach’s site coach Carlos Willcuts became someone she could talk to.
Willcuts was part of the REACH program, which is comprised of hundreds of volunteers who help about 2,000 students in the Bellevue School District through after-school sports and clubs.
“It was kind of like he was the first positive adult in my life that I could relate to,” Garcia said of Willcuts. “We would talk in Spanish. He understood.”
Now, Garcia is a site coach with the REACH program at Odle Middle School and has been for four years. She plans to share her story at Jubilee Reach’s fourth annual Festival of Trees fundraising event, which will be held Nov. 11 at the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue.
During the event, 10 decorated trees will be auctioned and a special Festival of Trees glassybaby candle holder will be sold for $75, with $25 going toward Jubilee Reach. The organization expects 800 to attend the Festival of Trees, “premier Christmas Holiday gala.”
Since Garcia’s been a coach, she strives to always share her knowledge, passion and empathy with students she helps because she knows the “struggle is real.”
“I think it’s great because there’s people that genuinely care about the kids,” Garcia said of the program, noting that it’s not just in an academic. “… We want the kids to be happy and be happy with themselves.”
Garcia said she doesn’t know where she would be now if she hadn’t had help from her site coach when she was 13 years old. But she does know what she wants to do in her future because of the program.
“My dream is to become a counselor,” she said.
Garcia is currently a junior at the University of Washington.
To learn more about Festival of Trees or the Jubilee Reach program, visit www.jubileereach.org.