Teen siblings lend a helping hand

The dinner line at the regional winter homeless shelter at the Glendale National Guard Armory stretched 40 people deep, and not everyone was pleased with the food. Some guests wanted more of this, or less of that, while a few declined to eat at all.

But amid the colorful characters, and even more colorful commentary, siblings Jazmine, Aundria and Brandon Castro — ages 17, 14 and 13 respectively — remained unflappable, serving up vegetables and French bread with a cheery ease among even the most street-hardened of the transient shelter clients.

“Everybody who comes in notices them,” said fellow shelter volunteer Diane Livesey. “And there are a lot of kids who come and go around here. But they just have such good manners.”

Three months after hearing through Incarnation Catholic Church about the volunteer opportunity, the teenagers have become a mainstay at the winter shelter, organizing donated clothing, preparing food and serving up meals.

There are no prodding parents — Jazmine, Aundria and Brandon are three of six siblings being raised by their grandmother. And they often have to ride the bus to make it to the armory, sometimes as frequently as three times a week.

“I manage, just like with everything else,” said Jazmine, a senior at Hoover High School. “I go to school, I’ll come home, grab something to eat and come here. And when I go back home I will study for a few hours. My grandma has taught us to manage, so I manage. I like doing this, so I make it a point to come whenever I can.”

When they first visited the regional shelter, the teenagers said they carried with them a bit a fear and plenty of misconceptions, among them that all homeless individuals are uneducated and addicted to drugs. But shelter guests have opened up to them, sharing stories of broken families, minimum-wage jobs and unemployment.

They were most shocked to see young people among those sleeping at the shelter.

“It is not just about drugs, that is not why some of the people are here... It could happen to anyone,” said Brandon, a seventh-grader at Toll Middle School.

Jazmine, Aundria and Brandon are self-starters, Livesey said. They always look out for the guests with limited mobility, bringing them plates of food. And Brandon rustled up a three-level wheeled cart and instituted a new system for distributing bottled juices and canned sodas, Livesey said.

Another time he spent his own money to purchase boysenberries, a hit among those who rarely have access to fresh fruit.

“Most people would say, ‘Should I wash them now? Should I wash them later? Should I put them in a cup? Should I put them in a bowl?’” Livesay said. “He just put them in little coffee cups and set them out… They just connected with these people.”

The threesome has taken to mining personal closets for rarely used clothing, and they said they think twice about purchasing new items.

“When I was in line, I saw a few of the people wearing my things,” Jazmine said. “I felt good and I thought, ‘Wow, it did help someone. They were able to use it.’ That really stuck out in my mind… It meant a lot to me.”

Aundria, an eighth-grader at Toll Middle School, said that guests notice when they aren’t able to make it to the armory.

“When I came here, it changed me a lot,” Aundria said. “It made me feel like [it is] the best thing you can do in the whole world. People are happy because of money, but this makes me happy because I am helping all these people that need help.”

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