Martha Michael | PAWS Proves Local Lives Matter

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You matter. Now, matter to yourself.

April Rego could’ve given a commencement speech with that line. But the truth is, Golden Valley High School students already got this message from her. And while they’re home on summer break right now, she’s just getting started.

As resource coordinator for the PAWS Center, which stands for Parent Awareness Workshops and Support, Rego is fixed and focused on one thing: meeting the tangible needs of individuals around her. 

When you describe the PAWS program and its mission “to provide information for students, parents and staff by encouraging student success, family health and wellness, and parenting support resources,” it sounds so academic. 

Far from it. 

April Rego isn’t hiding away in an ivory tower. She operates in the real world.

“My purpose is to help the students feel it’s a safe place and that they matter. And that we will help them any way we can,” Rego said. “Also, to bring awareness to the school district. We want them to be aware that these families have needs, and it’s not just Golden Valley. It’s all over the district, it’s all over the valley.” 

She and William S. Hart Union High School District social worker Cindy Takamoto, who operates PAWS with Rego, got their wish two weeks ago when “people who matter” paid them a visit – Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, and the Hart District’s top administrators. 

I watched as the two women showed these leaders a closet-of-a-room busting at the seams with wall-to-wall snacks, donated clothing, and cupboards filled with supplies from backpacks to toilet paper.

These visitors – who hold purse strings and make policy – were made aware that PAWS provides everything from food and clothing to a safe space with a shoulder to cry on. 

And with nearly 4,000 visits to the center this year, it’s clear they need a bigger space.

Takamoto told Rep. Hill, “When we first came together at the beginning of last year, we identified that there were a lot of needs on this campus, particularly food insecurity, which is where the pantry came from.”

The PAWS Center was the brainchild of Golden Valley Principal Sal Frias and opened at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. 

Frias tapped Rego for the job and told her, “‘I have this dream and I know that you can help me with it,’” she recalled. “‘It’s the PAWS Center. I’ve been trying to get it running and this is what it stands for.’”

The opportunity posed by the Grizzlies’ principal didn’t tempt Rego to bite. But then again, she was already running Project SCV, a similar operation at The Sanctuary Church aimed at meeting physical needs in the community. 

“I gently said, ‘No, I’m too busy, I’ve got too much,’” Rego said. “Then we met with the district and I saw a bigger picture of providing education and resources to not only this community here at Golden Valley, but the whole Hart School District – Valencia, West Ranch, all of those schools need help. I thought I would come and build this, stay for a year and move on – and now it’s got my heart.” 

While Golden Valley needs a bigger space for its resource center, new ones are being opened – at Canyon High and West Ranch in the fall. 

“I will help them staff it and build it,” Rego said. “I will work with them in any way and Cindy will, too. Our heart is right there.”

If you’re a cynic who believes schools should just stick to the three R’s, you may not have read my column about Gen Z-ers. 

Paraphrasing Congresswoman Hill, Takamoto said, “Kids are more than just students. They’re sons, they’re brothers, they’re grandchildren and what impacts the family impacts that kid and impacts their ability to access their education.”

I’ve always admired people who leave their comfortable lives to give attention to the needs of the powerless. 

“The Power of Lift” by Melinda Gates is the new book I’ve been reading and in it she describes her travels around the globe to determine where to direct billions of dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

In support of its mission to focus on “improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty,” she talks about sitting with women in Nairobi, Kenya, Indonesia, India, and the list goes on. 

Melinda Gates could easily sit in the lap of luxury and never grapple with the discomfort of those less fortunate. But she knows that they matter. 

Rego and Gates are lifting women and girls through their attention and resources – without judgment. 

These two women, who haven’t separated their responsibility to humankind from their faith, remind me of a verse in the Bible that says, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much.”

I think it’s safe to assume April Rego can be trusted with more space. Because she knows how much it matters.

Martha Michael is a contributing writer for The Signal.

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