By Colleen Sparks
When Teresita Jasso was in high school, she struggled with depression while dealing with a toxic home life, but an unusual program that connected her with teacher/mentors helped her find her voice and recover from trauma.
Jasso, now 26, has come full circle as she helps teenagers now as a teacher/mentor herself with Elevate Phoenix, a local non-profit organization that supports urban youths. She and others on staff at Elevate Phoenix help students develop leadership skills, including tutoring elementary school students, as well as prepare for post-high school education and careers and develop courage, forgiveness and other character qualities. The teacher/mentors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to help students deal with personal issues and to serve as positive role models.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has prohibited Jasso and the other teacher/mentors from teaching students on campus, they are still connecting frequently through video chats, socially distant in-person gatherings, phone calls and texts. Jasso works with students at Camelback High School, focusing this year on assisting seniors with their college applications, but she also frequently communicates with two Camelback High students who were in her class last school year: America Bello and Briseida Mayagoitia.
“I’m teaching them a lot of self-care, take care of yourselves right now,” Jasso said. “A lot of my students don’t do that and they’re not kind to themselves. Through the mentoring relationship they’ve learned to deal with emotions and know what emotions they’re dealing with. It’s so rewarding. Just to even have a student reach out in the middle of the night and share whatever they’re struggling with, it’s an honor for me and I don’t take that for granted.”
Growing up, she said officials put her in the Elevate Phoenix program because she had been caught using drugs in high school. Jasso said she had been sexually assaulted and her brother’s toxic behavior troubled her. The teacher/mentors at Elevate Phoenix were the first people she told about the assault and they helped her learn to cope with the emotional aspects of it, encouraging her to obtain counseling.
Last school year Jasso taught and mentored America, now 15 and a sophomore, and Briseida, also a 15-year-old sophomore. The girls still communicate with and see Jasso frequently.
America said with Jasso’s guidance she has learned “how to not react” to problems and to be the “bigger person” when someone attempts to make her angry.
“She was the most funnest, sweetest, encouraging teacher,” America said. “We went for some coffee and for lunch and we also went to an adventure camp together. I like to talk to her about my problems. She’s very easy to talk to.”
Briseida also praised Jasso for her support and guidance and said participating in the program has helped her become more comfortable with public speaking.
“I got way more comfortable when it comes to presenting in class and with kiddos,” she said. “We actually read a book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.’ It’s a really good book. It’s given me a lot of tips on things I can do.”
Elevate Phoenix is holding its largest event of the year online this year from 6 to 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 2. This fundraising virtual gathering, the 4th Annual Elevate Phoenix Invitational hosted by Tom Lehman, will generate money to help ensure the organization can keep helping youths. It will be broadcast live at elevatephoenix.org/invitational. There will be silent and live auctions and stories about how Elevate Phoenix helps children and teens will be shared.