PressFriends Extends Reach
• Student-run PressFriends continues to make an impact on and off the Peninsula.
On the Hill, volunteering jam-packs high school students’ schedules. From helping out at the local aquarium to fundraising for various cancer foundations, providing service to people is something that is heavily emphasized on the Peninsula.
PressFriends, a mentoring service, is no exception.
PressFriends is led entirely by students. It was founded in 2008 by a group of elementary and middle school students who wanted to share their experience by publishing their own paper.
They started by offering after-school workshops for students at Roosevelt Elementary, with the help and support of the Lawndale School District superintendent. Since then, PressFriends has grown and expanded to seven Title I elementary schools as well as various community sites.
Along with four-week after-school sessions, the organization holds more than 12 summer programs for students at partner locations, such as the Boys’ and Girls’ Club and the Richstone Family Center.
Its purpose its to focus on helping and educating the youth of lower-income communities with writing and communication skills so that they are better equipped to perform any future literacy-related tasks they need to accomplish. Middle and high school students tend to sign up to be mentors for the program, and they are all very dedicated, according to executive director Monica Emmery.
“I recently took more of a leadership role as executive director because I saw the impact that the program has in the community, especially with respect to the relationship between mentor and mentee,” Emmery said.
Emmery has been involved with PressFriends for about three years and took the position of executive director about five months ago.
Under the guidance of co-founder and former executive director emeritus Debora Southwell and, as well as the continuous support of mentor parents, Emmery has made PressFriends grow into the impressive organization it is today.
She has been able to pass down the values and lessons she has learned from the program to her children so they can continue to impact their community with the same vigor that Emmery witnesses at mentor sessions.
“To share the experiences I have with mentors at every session with my kids is also very important. They can see for themselves the impact that their efforts [for the community] can have,” Emmery said.
In the fall, PressFriends offers four mentoring sessions, which are each four weeks long. At the beginning of the sessions, the mentors introduce themselves and get to know everyone in the program. They then proceed to educate the students on the basics of article writing, as well as helping them think of article ideas for their paper.
Throughout those four weeks, a group of mentors, under the leadership of a lead mentor, assist the students in the program with their articles and help them publish their paper. The articles range from profiles of other classmates to memories the writers cherish.
At the end of the sessions, PressFriends holds a publication party for the celebration of the students’ new paper. These mini-writers get to see the articles they worked so hard on being published with their name on it. Seeing the pure satisfaction on their faces is what makes everything worthwhile for the mentors, including three-year mentor Rianne Aguas.
“[Unlike other service events], PressFriends gives students an opportunity to create something that they can keep forever—a newspaper,” Aguas said.
Aguas has been a mentor for PressFriends since her freshman year in high school and has stuck to it ever since. This organization has given Aguas a perspective on the world through a different lense—one involving smiling, eager elementary school students coming from an underserved community.
“I think what makes these kids special is that they show that they want to learn and improve [on their writing],” Aguas said. “You can tell that these students want to learn how to create a quality newspaper, and that is not something you see every day.”
PressFriends has given both mentors and mentees alike the opportunity to broaden their scope on literacy, diversity, and community. This organization has helped elementary school students find joy in the art of writing and see the power of their words in print.
Mentors from the South Bay can use PressFriends as an opportunity to step away from the stressful life of a middle and high school student and witness the imaginative, beautiful mind of a child, regardless of their background. PressFriends is an incredible organization that strives for inclusion, imagination, and a strong community, all through a form of a newspaper.
“[In PressFriends, you are] able to work with kids of lower-income areas and help them improve their writing skills, which they can use forever,” Aguas said. “Besides the volunteer hours and the service awards, I can forever keep [PressFriends] in my life as an experience and I think that is what makes all of this worthwhile.”