Meet Michele Cabania, one of our longest dedicated volunteers with StandUp For Kids-Silicon Valley. Since #SUFKSV opened the doors for the first Outreach Center, The Village, in downtown San Jose, Michele has been a regular face for homeless youth. Born and raised in San Jose, she works as an admin, is a mother of two, and recently became a proud grandmother to a beautiful little baby girl. With a big smile on her face she is talking about how she cherishes every second being with her granddaughter, because “kids just grow way too quickly”.
How did she become a volunteer with StandUp For Kids?
Over ten years ago, when her kids went off to college, Michele was wondering what else to do in her life and was looking for a volunteer opportunity. When she saw the need of mentoring local homeless youth, she signed up without hesitation.
What she loves about it is the one-on-one relationship with a youth. “If you are mentoring it’s because the kids wanted to be mentored. They open up to you, they walk you through their life, how they became homeless, what their family history is like, what their needs are. Then you set goals and one by one you get through them. Sometimes you have to revisit goals, because if you are homeless anything can happen. They might be on a good track, but something might come up and it will set them back. You have to be patient, very kind, loving and really just accepting.”
Michele continues talking about mentoring: “If you are a mentor you are probably in a better place then your mentee is and you have to remember what you are there for. What purpose you are serving to your community and that one youth. In general, I would see them at least once a week when they come through the center. If they had goals outside of the center maybe it could be many times a week. Trying to get them a driver license, taking them to a job interview, getting clothes to a job interview, etc.”
When asked if she could talk about an example, Michele’s face lit up. She talks about that one girl who started coming to The Village when she was probably just 14 or 15 years old. They both connected right away and that girl came a long way. Michele, who is more kind of a shy and quiet person, talks with passion about that girl she has been mentoring for about 7 years now. “Just watching her, to get jobs, stay with jobs, getting her first apartment and not letting anything get her down is very exciting and rewarding. Recently she got her GED (General Education Development, equivalent to High School). When she graduated, she asked if I could be there and of course I went.”
She also talks about the challenges of moving the outreach center through different locations, especially during COVID and that some of the volunteers got discouraged because numbers of kids dropped. But she stuck around and said very firmly: “If one kid walks through that door it is the same as 30 kids walking through that door. Because that one person needs help. And that is enough for any day to help at least just one kid.”
To the questions about what fulfills her volunteer work with #SUFKSV she replies: “I feel very blessed with my own life and maybe it’s a cliché, but it is hard not to give back to your community, to people that are around you here in San Jose. It’s rewarding watching them get excited to get some groceries, and exciting to listen to how they went to work and how it was rewarding for them. I feel honored that they let me in their life, because they don’t have to do that. They could be closed up, but they choose to let us in, and that makes it really fulfilling. It’s not just that you are helping somebody, it’s building a relationship with somebody. Maybe they didn’t have anybody in their family, in their life, somebody they could trust. This is changing once they have a mentor.”
Michele further explains that “because we all come from different walks of life, non-judging, none of us is any better than anybody else and I want them to understand that that they are enough and that they can succeed. I’m proud of them. I watched them do more than I do to get forward in life. It’s very rewarding. It’s really cool to see that they have done good with themselves. I love to see the strength and reliance from our youth, from present to past.”
She ends the interview with the following: “And some of our youth still come back to us even though they have aged out (older than 25 years), sometimes even with their children. They come back and tell us how and what they are doing and say ‘Thank You’”.