Gabrielle (left) and her mom Leslie attend Hanna’s Evening with the All-Stars Gala in 2015
I have been given the opportunity to apply for valedictorian at my university, Saint Mary’s College of California, and in doing so I was asked to reflect upon my involvement at Saint Mary’s and my community at home in Sonoma.
In addition to my allyship with the Lasallian communities in Moraga and my month of service in Sri Lanka, I have been a strong ally to hundreds of at risk teenage boys at Hanna Boys Center for over half of my life.
After our house caught fire when I was 12, my mom lost her job. She searched for and found a temporary position at a non-profit institution in Sonoma, California called Hanna Boys Center. This center does amazing things. It takes boys between the ages of 13 and 18 out of their current lives, usually surrounded by gang activity, disability, homelessness, lack of resources, and addiction (or any combination of these) and puts them in a place where they can reach success.
This place is one of my many homes. Whenever I am not at Saint Mary’s, at work, or at home, I am at Hanna. I have met so many amazing people there, volunteered thousands of hours, and become a part of the Hanna community.
I originally volunteered, at age 13, by being a member of the dance program. I got to bond with the boys and really understand what their position and social locations were. After a couple years, the dance program ended, but I still wanted to participate in any capacity possible at the center.
I worked in the development department whenever I could, helping my mom, filing and mailing, and setting up events. I also have always been a supporter of athletics at Hanna, even spending some time volunteering with the volleyball team.
Since being away at college, I have had less opportunity to work directly at the center. However, I chose to write my thesis based on my Hanna experiences.
After taking classes at Saint Mary’s and learning about the Lasallian mission though, I was able to look at Hanna differently. Hanna’s boys are handed every possible obstacle and every reason not to succeed. Everything in our world works against them. There is nothing I love more than being able to understand their social location, understand the plight of their minority status in this world, and see them beat all odds to achieve their goals.
The social justice the lasallian star preaches is being served up every day at Hanna, and the boys with the help of the staff, are able to defy the statistics and end up success stories. But they are so much more than their stories and their numbers and their successes. They are human and the humanization of boys like this is really the only way we can enable them to be more than a statistic.
I will do everything in my power, anytime, anywhere to stand in solidarity with these boys and I am proud to have been able to be their ally for the last 10 years and will continue to be their ally forever. –Gabrielle Petersen, Hanna volunteer