From Day One at 826LA To College

Jocelyn Ramirez is 826LA’s first Writer-in-Residence. Jocelyn continues to work with us in biweekly meetings as she applies to scholarships in preparation for the fall semester at NYU. Along with her sister and brother, she is raising money for 826LA as a golfer in our upcoming tournament, Mini Golf for Cheaters. You can support her with a donation before May 11 here.

My name is Jocelyn. I am 18. I have been residing in Los Angeles for all of my little life. More specifically, I lived in the Venice/Mar Vista area for more than half of those years. Later, I moved to the the outskirts of Culver City, in the midst of Inglewood, Hawthorne, Westchester, and LAX’s planes.

Now, you may think, “Okay, that’s a nice little backdrop of personal information … but where will this all lead to?” The thing is, growing up in Mar Vista and Venice proved to be more fruitful for me than I used to think it was, at least for my early years. It just wasn’t until I became a preteen that I began to see what my community had to offer.

During that time, I’d say I felt like some sort of flying fuzzball, floating from home to school to after-school violin to home again. My life seemed pretty mundane until the summer before 8th grade. I had made no plans, except maybe the occasional hang out with my buddies doing whatever we thought was cool back then. (That was probably nothing more than playing Wii Sports at a friend’s house. Woo-hoo.) Then, out of nowhere, my mom signed me up for tutoring at this really funky-looking arts place, which (unbeknownst to me at the time) held old jail cells.

The program I started going to, 826LA, turned out to be a totally unexpected experience. 826LA was a center that had been around for a while, yet for some reason I’d never been a part of it until then. It seemed ridiculous at first, considering all the cool writing things I got to do in addition to getting help on my homework.

I suppose I could say I always loved writing, but it seemed hard to admit that as a young adult. Writing, reading and anything educational seemed to be something, that, mentioned to my peers, was almost a taboo. Of course, these were the peers that I realized were quite plain and basic as I grew older.

Since I’m normally shy, yet a bit more outgoing when I can express myself through the written word, 826 helped me find a niche that I had no idea existed. I was working with really cool mentors and staff, staff members who knew how to incorporate fun into activities while educating us at the same time. I very clearly remember one of my first 826 mentor encounters, and it almost seemed straight out of a sitcom: the mentor’s name was Paradox (how cool is that?!), and every time he spoke it was as if the words would just swoop out and do some sort of dancing around the room before they reached our ears. He was just so outgoing and flamboyant. I think I remember him telling the class he was an actor. That just sort of blew my mind.

It may seem cheesy to admit it, but the classes and the people from 826 helped me establish some sort of “status” in high school, at least one where I was accepted. My high school experience, being a Hispanic student and being surrounded by, quite literally, people from all over the globe showed me that differences could exist between my classmates and I that were quite big, not just ethnically but socioeconomically. It was hard to blend in right away … that is, until I got to my first English course.

I’m thankful to say English had always been one of my favorite subjects. I thought grammar was fun (gasp!) and knew someone’s writing style could be interpreted in so many ways. Once I got settled into the community at 826, I got involved in writing classes ranging from newspaper publishing workshops to spoken word groups to seminars on the much-dreaded college essay. The possibilities were endless. And that was when the quiet, short Hispanic student sitting at the back of the class really began to, well, get noticed.

Now, fast forward four years. That same once-very-quiet-and-shy high schooler is ready to take a step into the world of midterms, tests, dorms, study abroad, essays, and coffee … also known as college. I’d like to think that writing and the general appreciation of the written word has helped me get to where I am now: being accepted into my top choice college, New York University. I hope to be able to incorporate everything I’ve learned and much more into my future career goals and aspirations.

I think that without the supportive community I had grown up with in Venice and Mar Vista, my way of thinking and aspirations would not have been the same. For that, I thank 826LA, my teachers, and all the other surroundings that helped me get to where I am. It may seem like a drastic thought, but if it wasn’t for all that support, who knows what I would be doing now? Luckily, I know I will always have a pencil, paper, and supportive folks I can turn to.

Featured image via Shutterstock

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