Program Coordinator, Teens on Target
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Teens on Target (TNT) Violence Prevention Educator MaryAnn Alvarado has been working with children and teens since high school, when her lovely singing voice caught the attention of a teacher, who asked if she would come to a nearby elementary school to help prepare the kids for their winter concert. “They asked a few of us,” she says, “but I was the one who kept coming back.”
Later MaryAnn would run after school programs in West and East Oakland and in San Francisco’s Bayview, in neighborhoods where every day, at any time, on the street, in front of your house, on a corner or a campus, violence can erupt and it can be deadly. She remembers the day when a 3rd grader found a handgun in his backpack. His older brother had hidden it there. And of course the day in Oakland when there was a homicide on the corner outside school; the victim was a relative of several students.
MaryAnn says that at schools in violent neighborhoods, like at Castlemont and Fremont high schools in East Oakland, where TNT is housed, you feel a tension when you walk onto campus. It’s not only in the teachers and other adults; the students feel it, too. It becomes part of how they respond to the world. Everywhere holds risk. But there is also opportunity. MaryAnn loves exposing kids to new things. “I want to give them opportunities to do things they’ve never done before, paint a mural, record a song.”
She works hard to establish trust with students by opening up to them about her own life’s trials and experiences with violence. She appreciates that TNT discusses not only gun and gang violence, but family violence, dating violence and peer pressure. Her favorite thing about this work, along with the relationships, is seeing the transformation in a TNT youth leader, seeing someone who came to the program shy and quiet and now is out there presenting workshops in classrooms and speaking in front of groups.
MaryAnn says that seeing the barriers in the lives of the young people she works with doesn’t get her down. On the contrary, it motivates her. “It just makes me wish there was more I could do.”