Sat04192014

Community

Sunday Friends: Earning through learning


Photo By: Photo courtesy of Sunday Friends
Photo Photo Courtesy Of Sunday Friends

Children from low-income families combine education and fun at Sunday Friends.

Sunday Friends emphasizes earning through learning, rewarding low-income families with tickets – redeemable for items at its on-site store – in exchange for spending their Sundays participating in community service activities and taking classes. Adults typically trade tickets for household goods like diapers and dish soap, while children often exchange them for toys and school supplies.

Ten-year-old Alberto had his eye on a big, red bicycle at the Sunday Friends’ Treasure Chest and saved his tickets for weeks. When he finally had enough, Alberto instead cashed them in to buy a stroller for a pregnant woman he didn’t know.

“We asked him why he did that,” said Ali Barekat, executive director of Sunday Friends, “and he answered, ‘Because she needed it.’”

Alberto is proof that along with receiving goods and bettering themselves through classes ranging from computers to cooking, participants learn valuable life lessons from Sunday Friends.

“They learn the difference between want and need, and they learn to help others,” Barekat said. “The program builds character.”

Even in those with ulterior motives.

“One woman told us, ‘I came to the program to steal from you, but I changed,’” Barekat recalled. “We have people who come to us that are just trying to survive – they’re living day to day – and when they feel confident and safe and understand the value of learning, they change.”

The more these people participate in the program – which promotes family, education and a healthy lifestyle – the more open they are to learning and changing, according to Barekat. On any given Sunday, 60 to 70 families take part, including approximately 130 children. Some create gifts for seniors, others write thank-you notes to donors, while several learn to use the Internet, improve their English skills, manage their money and prepare healthful meals.

“It works,” Barekat said of Sunday Friends,” because it makes people feel good about themselves and we treat them with respect.”

The families in need aren’t the only ones who benefit from the program, open noon to 6 p.m. Sundays on a rotating basis at Lowell, Blackford and Anne Darling elementary schools in San Jose. Although the volunteers – numbering at least 100 per week – don’t get tickets, they are rewarded in other ways.

“They come and give their time, and they gain from working with the families,” Barekat said. “They leave much happier and feel better about themselves – just like the families do. It’s a two-way relationship, and everybody wins.”

Including Barekat’s son, Ryan, who introduced him to Sunday Friends. Ryan volunteered throughout high school.

“My son is a much better person and in tune with himself and the community more than he had ever been because of Sunday Friends,” Barekat said.

A computer technologist who helped launch several successful startup companies, Barekat became executive director at Sunday Friends in January. He’s never worked harder.

“I work seven days a week, more than I ever did with the startups,” said Barekat, who handles the finances, website, publicity and logistics. “But this is different – it’s energizing and the reward is instant.”

As for Alberto, he eventually did get that red bike.

“We made sure of that,” Barekat said with a smile.

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