Crescenta Valley High School senior Matthew Hanzel is ready for college; he is taking the right classes, participates in extracurricular activities, and has long completed the recommended 100 hours of community service. Instead of luxuriating in the free afternoons that are typical of senior year, however, Hanzel dedicates two days out of the week to tutor at-risk children as part of the Salvation Army Glendale Corp’s Zone after-school program.
“Once you start ... why stop?” Hanzel, 18, said. “It’s not hindering me — I enjoy it.”
With a yearly fee of $10, the Zone is open Monday through Friday beginning at 3 p.m., when most area schools end their day. Students ranging from elementary to middle school status are given access to laptops and homework help in a two-room facility designed specifically for their use; if they want to burn some energy, a gymnasium down the hall is left open for games of basketball. Many of the students are from low-income families where English is not the primary language spoken; others are enrolled in the program because their parents work until later in the afternoon, Youth Program Manager Julyne Sales said.
“It’s a safe place for kids,” Sales said. “It’s also an alternative to going home to an empty house.”
Despite his relatively recent addition to the Zone volunteer staff — he started earlier this year in the summer — Hanzel has already left an impression on his colleagues and the students he works with.
“He takes the initiative to talk to the kids and play sports with them [in the gym],” Sales said. “He knows exactly what he’s talking about when giving homework help. Because our staff is small, Matt helps relieve the pressure of monitoring and assisting the large number of kids who come here each day.”
Thirteen-year-old Roosevelt Middle School student Jamilet Marquez has been coming to the Zone since she was in fourth grade. She was quick to warm up to Hanzel.
“He’s fun,” she said. “In other tutoring places, it’s not the same.”
Classmate Luis Trejo agreed, adding that he is glad that Matt shares his love for soccer. If Matt stops volunteering at the Zone once he starts college, Luis said that he would want to help out with the sports portion of the Zone activities.
“The Zone is our home away from home,” Luis said.
“This is one of a kind,” fellow Roosevelt eighth-grader Kimberly Centeno said.
Hanzel is well aware of the impression he is leaving on the students he helps. The students like to engage in discussions about life, high school and hobbies with him.
“A lot of the time, kids don’t need the homework help,” he said. “They just need someone to be there.”