An Interview with Selina Cardoza Martinez
Selina has been volunteering in East Palo Alto since she graduated from Stanford with a master's in engineering. She has been at BCM, working with high school youth in the LEAD program for the past several years. As she prepares to move out of state, we celebrate her journey with us and the many contributions she has made. Read on to discover her story and how the youth in East Palo Alto have become an intricate part of her life here.
After graduating from Stanford University, why did you decide to move into East Palo Alto?
I was a part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Stanford University, where I really discovered God’s heart for justice. I became aware of the juxtaposition of a wealthy, highly educated city and its neglected, looked-down-upon neighbor. After college, a group of us decided we wanted to partner with an organization doing incarnational ministry – living in the same place as the people we were serving so that we might gain an intimate knowledge of the issues they are facing. We joined an organization called the Family Center on O’Keefe Street where we lead after school programs. I fell in love with the community.
How long have you been at BCM and how did you first get involved?
I had always heard great things about Bayshore Christian Ministries. In 2011, founders of the Family Center had to leave East Palo Alto for personal reasons. They worked with BCM to ensure the youth in the area would continue to have a place to go for tutoring and bible club. BCM kindly took us under their wings. I had a passion for high school ministry and we had some youth that were just getting into high school, so I decided to volunteer with the LEAD Program at BCM.
What programs have you worked with in your time at BCM? Is there a story that sticks out?
I have volunteered with LEAD and the Technovation Challenge. One thing that broke my heart was when Jesse shared a story about a woman he saw late at night waiting at a bus stop. He talked to her and discovered she needed to get to San Francisco to stay at a safe house, protecting her from domestic violence. Jesse asked the group if anyone had seen or experienced it themselves and just about every single kid raised their hands. I remember grieving that night. Moments like that can be overwhelming. However, God used it to open my heart. It’s something I go to whenever we’re having a rough day; when the kids at LEAD aren’t paying attention or are acting out. It has humbled me to realize I have no idea what they’re going through, but I can choose to love them where they are. Sometimes, this means I need to give them boundaries and make sure they follow rules. Other times, I am called to teach them about God’s grace.
You've been mentoring a young woman named Vanessa. Tell us about that relationship--from when you first met until now, going on a college tour with her.
It felt like a sense of closure taking Vanessa on a college tour as I am getting ready to move away. Vanessa is this bright young woman. She is silly, funny and smart. I worked with her as part of the Technovation Challenge – a twelve week program where a group of four girls worked on developing a phone app that helps the community. The team placed top five in the Bay Area and top twenty worldwide. They wanted to continue to learn more about programming, so Sarah, their tech mentor, and I worked with them the past couple of years. This summer, they are going to be web programming interns at LinkedIn!
What's something you've learned or experienced in your time at BCM that you'll always take with you?
I think the biggest thing I am going to take away is how fulfilling volunteering has been. You think you’re going to come in and change people’s lives, but it was my own life that changed. Each week, I was reminded of the realities and struggles that people face, and of what really matters in life. Every person left a lasting impression on me, and to be able to see the growth of many of these youth was really something special. It was a privilege to be a part of God’s work in East Palo Alto.
As you move out of EPA and away from BCM, what is on your heart to pray for the most?
I hope that the students will continue to turn to God and to not let the struggles and disappointments that they face lead them away from him. I pray that they would realize how beautifully and wonderfully they are made, and that they would discover and use their gifts to further God’s kingdom. My biggest hope is that in 10 to 20 years they will be leaders in their communities, sharing the same messages about love, grace, and hope for the future that I tried to share with them.
BCM, and the LEAD program in particular, are going through a transition right now. I pray for the students who are currently in the program; that they would not be tempted or revert to the lives they were living before being a part of LEAD. I pray for the volunteers who are trying to bridge the gap and operating the program on their own. May they seek wisdom in discerning whether to continue with the program, and if so that they may not burn out or become overwhelmed with leading.