As a child in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Aylin Reyes had a single mom. She didn’t know her father. Educational opportunities were grim. Adversity was prevalent.
Her family relocated to Tulsa eventually, and she fell under the influence of Claire Johnson, her theater teacher at Central High School.
“Having at least one teacher that really invested in me and cared about me made me want to also be that advocate, be that adult for other kids,” Reyes said.
Now 22, Reyes is that advocate for kids facing their own adversity.
She visits Union and Tulsa Public Schools on behalf of Camp Fire Green Country, the Tulsa organization that works to enhance and empower children. She might play soccer or board games, or paint, or just act silly with them. Anything to spark a child’s interest and activity.
Whatever she does, and whomever she mentors — Reyes focuses on third- through fifth-graders and is heavily involved in Camp Fire’s Latino initiative — she has root priorities.
“I try my best to create a safe environment for the kids,” she says. “Not just physically safe where they’re not hurting themselves but also emotionally safe. So if they do bring up any problems that are going on at home or at school, they know that I’m a trusted adult that they can come to and talk to.”
Reyes’ root activity is to listen.
“I think we miss little things here and there with these kids,” she says. “You can tell when they want to speak up about something. It really does happen a lot more than we think it does. It’s just a matter of whether we’re listening.
“If we’re willing to show a genuine interest in them, they’ll open up and they’ll try new things. They’ll grow with you.”
Those who listen, show interest or provide adult stability can have a deep and meaningful impact on a child who has endured some trauma.
“I’ve had kids that start Camp Fire and, at the beginning of the year, they might be very distracting, they might be hitting other kids, they might flat out not want to participate or tell us that it’s boring,” Reyes says. “By the end of the year, they’re leading us through an activity. It’s fantastic.”