Local fathers, mothers, children and grandparents gathered around cozy candle-lit tables as student-waiters in elegant and chic attire greeted and served Thanksgiving dinner to families of the Isla Vista Community who may not usually be able to experience this holiday meal.
On November 22, students from La Escuelita and Hermanos Unidos hosted their annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Santa Catalina Linda Vista Room. Mariachi bands, Mexican folk dancers and various student volunteers entertained a crowd of roughly 40 families as they enjoyed their dinner.
“We want to show the families that students do care,” said Leticia Lemus, a fourth-year Sociology major and co-chair of La Escuelita. “Just seeing their faces and hearts full of gratitude means a lot to us. We feel like we have developed a community and a sense of belonging.”
Around 70 UCSB students from La Escuelita and Hermanos Unidos volunteered in serving, organizing games, preparing arts and crafts, and coordinating the event.
La Escuelita, also known as “the little school”, is a student organization that was established nearly 40 years ago at UCSB to serve the Isla Vista and Goleta communities. Hermanos Unidos’ main objective is to enrich the students’ academic excellence while encouraging community service and social interaction. Hermanos Unidos requires active members to attend study hours and to get involved with community service activities.
Maria Barrera is single mother of three whose children attend the Isla Vista elementary school, and this is her second time attending the Thanksgiving dinner.
“It’s very important for my children to have a family here,” said Barrera. “I bring my children here so they can see what UCSB students are doing for their community.”
According to Barrera, La Escuelita is very important to her because it gives her children a chance to interact with university students who act as role models.
The dinner was primarily planned and organized by Marlon Fernandez-Castro, a second-year Sociology and Chicano Studies major and Community Service Chair of Hermanos Unidos, and Rudy Acevado, a third-year Psychology major and Community Service Chair of La Escuelita.
“Hermanos Unidos is our home away from home,” said Fernandez-Castro. “At Hermanos Unidos we create a support system that allows students to excel at the college level while developing a sense of community.”
Acevedo says La Escuelita has even taught him about future parenting skills.
“Before I joined La Escuelita I did not know much how to deal with children, especially with my niece and nephew,” he said. “I wanted to learn skills on how to become a better parent and La Escuelita has definitely helped me with that.”
Through the La Escuelita tutoring program, club members help students in Isla Vista with academic and social issues. They host events including play days, carnivals, talent shows, parent conferences, and holiday parties where they interact with the community and inform them about their student-run services.
Over the years, La Escuelita’s and Hermanos Unidos’ involvement in the community has left a significant impact on many students, staff members, and local members.
Ray Lopez, senior custodian at Manzanita Village dorms, has personally enjoyed the generosity and warmth of the students. Lopez attended the annual Thanksgiving dinner along with his wife, Tammy Lopez. He said he was encouraged to come to the dinner by many students who worked with him at Housing Services.
According to Lopez, La Escuelita and Hermanos Unidos members distinguished themselves with their hard-working ethics and respect towards the community.
“The students here have put a lot of work to make this dinner happen. They’ve been so hospitable towards us, catering to us with whatever we need,” said Lopez.
While the crowd was busy eating and enjoying the wonderful entertainment, students ran back and forth from the kitchen taking orders, serving food, and even sharing warm hugs with the children and families.
La Escuelita meets every Wednesday at 6 pm in the State Street Room at the University Center.