Glastonbury Youth Services mentor gives back to program that helped him

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., Mar. 28, 2013
Mentor Luis Lugo and Emily, 9, show off some culinary delights they helped create at the Expressive Arts and Cooking program at the Welles Community Center. Photos by Steve Smith.
Mentor Luis Lugo and Emily, 9, show off some culinary delights they helped create at the Expressive Arts and Cooking program at the Welles Community Center. Photos by Steve Smith.

For many children in the Welles Village section of Glastonbury, the most fun they regularly have is made possible by volunteers. The Expressive Arts and Cooking camp was started nine years ago by a member of the Youth Services Action Group who thought it would be a good idea for teens from all over town to go and learn what the Welles Village community was really like, and suggested an after school/tutoring program.

Chris Gullotta of Glastonbury Youth and Family Services' Creative Experiences program oversees the program which sees about 50 kids per week who come into the Welles Village Community Center for homework help, arts, crafts, cooking lessons and playing outside. “We teach them all the time about manners and how to treat each other,” Gullotta said. “The students who come in from other parts of town learn that it's a safe place to come to and they have a real community here.”

High school students become mentors in the program, after being assistant mentors as middle-schoolers. Luis Lugo, a 2012 graduate of GHS, is one of the mentors, and said he began as one of the campers when he first moved to Glastonbury as an eighth-grader. He soon became an assistant mentor and has been a full-fledged mentor for several years. He said he saw the benefits of the progam for himself, and wanted to give back.

“We help kids with their homework, make snacks and play games,” he said. “I like the kids, and I just like helping people and making them happy. It definitely feels good. I don't even know how to explain it.”

While Lugo admits he enjoys playing the games almost as much as the kids do, he, like all of the other mentors, had to go through a training program on how to manage children. “You learn how to talk to them and not yell at them,” he said. “Some kids are hard to control, but you learn patience. Sometimes we have to tell them to sit down and calm down.”

A culinary arts student at Manchester Community College, Lugo also spends a lot of time in the kitchen. “I've been here so long, I even know what some of the kids' allergies are,” Lugo said. “I'm mainly in the kitchen. That's sort of my specialty.”

Emily, 9, said she likes playing outside, but also “making the desserts” with Lugo. “He's nice,” she said. “He's really good at cooking.”

“Most of them don't have anyone at home to help them with their homework,” Gullotta said, adding that the school work is always done before play time. “We tell them it's a bonus that they get to do it here with us,” she said.

“When they come in, we ask them if they have homework and if they need help,” Lugo said. “We try to help them as much as we can. I like helping them get their work done.”

Lugo has also volunteered with the YSAG and the Pass It On! cable program, and said he recommends volunteering to other young people. “It's a good way to interact with people,” he said. “When I first got here, I didn't know anybody, and now I know the mentors and kids, and other people outside of the program, too.”

For more information on the Welles Village Expressive Arts and Cooking program, call 860-652-7675.

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