“What I have discovered is that there is no age limit to learning. I am 77, and I think that I can still keep learning more.”
Over the past five years, Don Jesus has become a prominent member of the Glenwood Springs Elementary School community through his participation as one of Valley Settlement’s Parent Mentors. He arrives at school each morning at exactly 6:30, ready to greet each child at the front door. “No one asked me to do this,” he says. “But I want every child to feel welcomed to school.”
“Don Jesus’s daily presence at our school provides a model of lifelong service to us all.” – Audrey Hazleton, GSES Principal
Don Jesus originally came to the United States from El Salvador in 1964 on a work visa. A young father of seven, his career kept him on the road until he retired. Several years ago he was diagnosed with cancer, and moved to the Roaring Fork Valley to live near his daughter and to be treated at Valley View Hospital. At one point, his doctor told him that if he survived his thyroid surgery, he might never be able to speak again.
During his cancer treatments, Don Jesus became depressed. His doctor referred him to a mental health professional, who referred him to Valley Settlement and the Parent Mentor program. “I feel that my life has totally changed,” he says, “Totalmente.” In addition to volunteering every day in the art room at GSES, Don Jesus is taking adult education classes through Valley Settlement’s Lifelong Learning program to pursue two of his long-time goals of learning English and how to use a computer. He wears his blue Parent Mentor polo and school ID badge with pride.
“I am never again going to accept the word ‘can’t’.”
Now, when Don Jesus is out in the community, he feels recognized and valued. At the store or in the library, children run up to hug him. Spending time in GSES has taught Don Jesus the “language of children,” and has given him a new view on his own role as a parent. “When I was young, I traveled and did not give my children as much love and time as I should have,” he says. “Now, I am giving that love and that time to the children in school.” This newfound appreciation is enriching his time with his own grandchildren, who he calls “la mitad de mi vida – the light of my life.”
“All my children, except for my daughter, live far away. I talk to them and tell them what I am doing, what I am learning. They tell me they are very proud of me. Junior, my youngest, says that when he grows up he wants to be just like me – and he is 52!” Don Jesus’ apartment walls are covered with drawings that the school children gift to him, as well as graduation certificates from Valley Settlement’s Parent Mentor and Lifelong Learning programs.
His wish for the future is that more people outside of the schools recognize Parent Mentors for their work and role in the community. He hopes more people like him will become involved with Valley Settlement. “These programs open the door for so many opportunities. I wish everyone knew about them.”
Don Jesus participates in two of Valley Settlement’s six programs, Parent Mentor and Lifelong Learning. Parent Mentors dedicate 300 volunteer hours to Roaring Fork School District elementary schools each year, working alongside teachers to support student learning. Lifelong Learning provides adult education classes in Spanish to further education in English, math, language arts, Spanish literacy, computers, and more. Lifelong Learning acts as a bridge to Colorado Mountain College, providing adult learners with a strong foundation to continue their education.