By Kristina Houck
As a volunteer at Casa de Amistad, Ralph Cisneros tutors and mentors local children, helping them with their homework and encouraging them to stay in school and pursue their dreams.
“You have to instill that drive in kids,” said Cisneros, who was recently honored as the organization’s Volunteer of the Year. “That’s why Casa de Amistad is so important.”
Located in Solana Beach, Casa de Amistad is dedicated to fostering education and character development in local underrepresented children through an educational mentoring program for students in grades K-12. Last school year, the organization’s 125 volunteers served 165 students.
More than three years ago, Cisneros was looking for a way to give back to the community when he learned about Casa de Amistad. He was immediately drawn to the organization’s mission, seeing a younger version of himself in the students.
Born in Cuba, Cisneros was just 2 years old when his family fled the Communist country and came to the United States in 1969.
While growing up in Los Angeles, Cisneros helped his parents clean houses. His father championed education, pushing him to go to college.
“When I came here, we had nothing,” Cisneros said. “I would go with my mom and dad to work. I learned the importance of education and the value of money.”
Inspired by his parents, Cisneros went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at UCLA. He began his career as an engineer for Motorola in Arizona, where he earned a master’s in engineering at Arizona State University. Cisneros relocated to San Diego in 1998. Currently, the San Marcos resident works in sales at Altera Corporation.
Cisneros, who tutored students while in college, started off with two students when he first became a volunteer at Casa de Amistad. Last school year, Cisneros worked with six students in sixth through eighth grade. He volunteered as a tutor for three hours on Tuesdays and 90 minutes on Thursdays.
He has worked with one of his students since she was in sixth grade. Today, she is straight-A student, who is starting high school in the fall.
“Kids are impressionable, so we try to steer them the right way,” Cisneros said. “It’s rewarding to work with the students and see their successes.”
To further support the organization, Cisneros joined the board more than a year ago. Since joining the board, he has been focused on obtaining sponsorships from corporations to further Casa de Amistad’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs.
In recognition of his dedication, Casa de Amistad honored Cisneros as Volunteer of the Year during the end-of-the-year award ceremony on May 27. Cisneros, who was out of the country the day of the event, said he was not expecting the award.
“If what I do has positive effects, that’s gratifying enough,” he said.
Although summer is now in session, Casa de Amistad will soon begin recruiting volunteer tutors and mentors for the upcoming school year. Hoping to recruit even more volunteers to meet the organization’s demands and cut its waiting list, Cisneros encouraged people to sign up.
“These kids will shape society tomorrow,” Cisneros said. “You can be part of that.”
For more information about Casa de Amistad and volunteer opportunities with the organization, visit www.casadeamistad.org.