ACE House Mentors Underprivileged Youth
December 8, 2008
By Josh Webb
Children always need a place where they can learn and play, a place where they can meet up with friends and feel safe. Southern Methodist University’s ACE House gives children an opportunity to gain those experiences.
Founded in 1991, Academic Community Engagement House (ACE) was formed by a partnership between Habitat for Humanity and the Munger Place United Methodist Church. The group placed students in Garrett Park, which was a low-income, minority neighborhood. The students then managed an after-school tutoring program for elementary and middle school kids. Soon after it began, the program started gaining support from other students, along with national recognition from an article that was published in the New York Times, the Chronicle for Higher Education, and the Dallas Morning News.
Program educates, prepares youth
The programs current director, SMU Professor Bruce Levy, refined some of the courses for the program. This was in an effort to continue helping students learn the “social action pedagogy” or social-action teaching idea. In 1997, the program opened its official location with an office in Dedman College, with 50 to 60 students taking part in the ACE curriculum. In 1998, the Coca-Cola Co. gave a three-year, $300,000 grant to the ACE program. The grant enabled the ACE to move to a different location in Garret Park. The center also formed a partnership with the Dallas Independent School District, and, in 2000, was recognized as the Dallas County Agency of the Year.
The primary goal of the ACE House program is to educate and prepare students for the diverse world in which they live. It enables SMU students to have an impact on their surrounding community. SMU students have the opportunity to live at the house, to tutor kids, and to give the children a greater sense of community.
Mentoring important to students
House resident and SMU student Gina Argueta enjoys being someone the kids can look up to.
“I enjoy working with kids [and] I like working with them,” she said. “Myself and the other tutors, we’re someone that that they look up to. That’s always nice to have an influence on another human being. “
Being a role model for the kids is an important reason why students volunteer at the Center.
SMU student Ashley Pinon said, “I’m the oldest in my family, so I’ve kind of always been the role model or mentor for my little sisters. So I kind of feel it’s the same way.”
Part of being a mentor is helping the kids excel in life, Pinon said.
“Encouraging the kids to do more, more than they think they can do, is important,” she said. They need “to know that there are people looking out for them besides their family. People who want them to excel.”
Tutoring makes studying fun
The students also take part in tutoring the kids twice a week.
“Monday and Wednesday are when we have them do their homework. We help them and make sure it gets done, working with them one-on-one,” Argueta said. “We make sure they have some reading time or [work] with some kind of flash cards. “
Another member of the ACE program staff, Ruben Garcia, joined for a work-study job and enjoyed it more than he thought.
“It’s my fourth year here,” he said. “It’s different than just working all the time. You get to have a lot of fun.”
The ACE house program has been growing for the last 17 years. The students that volunteer their time to help the kids can see how their 20-hour-a-week commitment can influence the kids.
“In the end, I’m hoping for them to go graduate high school and go to college,” Garcia said.