By Onelio Aguilar
Casa Chirilagua came into my life my first year in college. I met Dawnielle Miller my senior year at TC Williams High School, and since then we kept in contact and she introduced me to Kids Club. I remember my first day at Kids Club. The kids welcomed me, and at the same time, I was nervous because I did not see myself as a helper during that time.
Casa Chirilagua gave me the opportunity to work with the kids during the summer program in 2011. During that time I learned about the vision of God in Chirilagua. I got to know the kids better, and by the end of the program, I was well known in Chirilagua. Now when I go to Kids Club or walk in the neighborhood, I am welcomed with hugs and excitement. I feel like a super star when I go to Chirilagua. I have made great relationships with four of the parents that I regularly visit. God has blessed me to be part of this great program. I have found a home and a family through Casa Chirilagua. I have found spiritual support, a learning environment, and a family that is there for me when I need them. Emily, Dawnielle, Rachel, and others that are part of the intentional community are my family. During times of struggle, they have come around me and helped me.
If it wasn’t for my friends and family in Chirilagua, I think that my life would totally be different right now. I had just come out from a foster home and moved to live by myself when I started going to Kids Club. I was welcomed to family dinners and invited to the Hoppe’s house to hang out with their children.
This spring I went through hard times, but a friend of mine sent me a verse on Facebook that says “For I know the plans that I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” Jeremiah 29:11. I began to think how God brought me here to the United States and got me involved with Casa Chirilagua. I began to think about the purpose of God bringing me to Casa Chirilagua and about one of the families that lives in neighborhood having told me, “my kids wants to be like you and go to college, you are a great person and thanks for helping them.” This made me realize that that was the plan that God had for me to help the kids in the neighborhood.
I am part of Casa Chirilagua because I know that there is a lot of potential in the neighborhood. I have seen children who are talented and the only thing they need is support. I was successful because people came around me and supported me. Recently my friend Frisly started coming to Kids Club, and I thought that he wouldn’t be interested, but now he is part of Casa Chirilagua. He comes in the neighborhood and plays with kids and we both get happy when the kids ask us questions about school and college. We enjoy hearing about what they want to do when they grow up. The last day of Kids Club, Frisly said “Oh man, now what am I going to do after school now?” I laughed at him because the kids love hanging out with him. Sometimes he visits the house of one of the kids and read together or do math problems together. A year ago, I started taking a group of boys to the movie theater and since then it has become a monthly activity for us. I remember the first time I took them to watch a movie. They were so happy that when I got home I cried because three of them had not gone to the movie theater and it reminded me of when I was young. I was 17 years old when I first watched a movie and taking kids who dreamed to go to the movie theater made me so happy.
I live for Casa Chirilagua now and God has blessed me to stay close by and finish my degree at Marymount University in Arlington. I want to keep working with the kids in Chirilagua and walk alongside them during their educational years and be there for them. I want to see them achieve their goals and move on in life. I will be here to support them and say that everything is possible in life. I never imagined myself graduating from high school and graduating with an associate degree.* I mentioned before that I would have not done it without those mentors and people who came around me and helped me keep going on in life. I want to do the same and give back to the community and help others achieve their dreams.
*Onelio is the first foster care child to graduate with an associate’s degree in the history of the city of Alexandria.