Playworks Arizona is celebrating AmeriCorps week by highlighting one of our AmeriCorps coaches, Mitzi Ortega. Coach Mitzi is a first year AmeriCorps coach serving at Montebello School in Phoenix, Arizona. Mitzi graduated from Arizona State University with her Bachelor’s in Exercise and Wellness and went on to pursue her Masters in Sports and Exercise Psychology from Argosy University.
Here’s what she had to say about her experience with both Playworks and AmeriCorps:
I used to coach high school girls basketball and I noticed how the girls lacked basic psychological skills. Once I started putting more attention and emphasis on that aspect of coaching, I saw a significant increase in performance, self-esteem, and team comradery. I knew that I wanted to have this impact on more young people.
When I came across Playworks on a search engine, I looked into the website and watched a video on the impact that Playworks has on these young children and the community. I remember getting goosebumps in my arms and immediately knew that if I was not hired on, I had to find some way to get involved with this organization.
I knew I was going to have an important job coming into Playworks, but it has exceeded my expectations! My experience as a coach has challenged me to be the best version of myself that I can possibly be, because the children, the teachers, the staff, and my whole school deserve it.
At first, I was a little worried and hesitant to be at a brand new school as a brand new coach. With such a wide diversity of 1400 students who speak 37 different languages, I was not too sure how I was going to pull it off. How was I going to teach and impact all of these students? Little did I know that they would impact me in so many ways. Every single day, I learn something new or I witness students applying what they have learned from me in their own way. With the help of my awesome program manager Devon, and fellow AmeriCorps coaches, I have been able to transform this school into what it is today. I am extremely grateful to have the whole school staff jump on board and embrace Playworks as much as I have. I get to have one of the most fun jobs that anyone can think of, all while creating leadership, kindness, and character in children! When you see the best come out of every child, no matter their gender, race, or age, you get to experience one of the best things ever.
My community engagement initiative this year is International Family Night. This night is designed to target our refugee families to provide resources that can help them in any shape or form. There will be translators, transportation, clothes drive, food drive, hygiene resources, job application resources, potential job opportunities, and outside games for the kids led by Junior Coaches. The reason why I chose this project is because Montebello has a large refugee population. Unfortunately, there can be tension within cultures on the recess playground and neighborhoods. Ms. Hunter, a fifth-grade teacher, reached out to me and we worked together to create our vision of uniting all cultures all while helping them in any way possible.
About a month ago, I saw one of our refugee friends sitting alone on the playground in a meditating position with a friend. I walked over to see if she was okay, her friend gave me a nod of a “yes.” When the whistle blew, her friend walked her over, and even though she was able to walk she was in a state of panic and shock. Trembling in fear, I wrapped her around my jacket and walked with her inside to the nurse. She was basically going through a PTSD episode. The only way I could communicate with her was by giving her a sense of safety. When this happened, it reminded me of how important my job is. Who knows what these kids have lived through before, but while they are at school all they should worry about is being a kid. It reminded me why I do what I do: to create a safe and healthy community for ALL.
Serving and helping others discover their fullest potential is what I am most passionate about. When someone realizes their potential to create something bigger than themselves and I am able to help them in some shape or form, I’m a happy camper and feel like I am fulfilling my purpose. And, the biggest reward is when they turn around and pay it forward by helping someone else!
Interested in becoming a Playworks AmeriCorps member? Learn more!