Pay it forward to help students and their families

Pay it forward: Juan Torres photo by Ash Tree Studios
Juan Torres photo by Ash Tree Studios

Mobile, Alabama – a writer honors a man who pays it forward to help kids have a better future.

Juan Torres of Mobile remembers vividly the moment that changed his life and inspired him to pay it forward.

All'età di 14, he was in a street in Puerto Vallarta, Messico, where he had just moved to live with his sister. He paused at a shop window. Never in his life had he seen a window like that – the plate-glass kind that showcases mannequins wearing the latest apparel. This window displayed a jacket with a price tag of $170 pesos. “I didn’t know if it was the serial number,” recalled Torres, referring to the price. “I was earning $35 A $38 every two weeks.”

While he stood there puzzling over the jacket, a passerby posed the question, “Hey, do you like that?” The man was Father Tony Clark, a missionary priest from Iowa, who was working with teens in Mexico. The two struck up a friendship and Father Clark mentored Juan, taking him along as a volunteer to various missions. Three years later, he offered Juan the opportunity of a lifetime: to study in the USA. Juan took advantage of the opportunity and moved to Arizona, where he learned English and graduated from high school.

Juan moved to Mobile, Alabama, to attend university. To pay his way through college, he worked various jobs: car washer, book salesman, waiter, airplane fuel technician, rock mason, and landscaper. In 2002, Juan gained his degree. Oggi, he is a senior manager at Alto Products, where he currently oversees Occupational Health and Safety.

But that is not all.

Per molti anni, Juan has strived to pay it forward. Juan has worked to help refugee, asylee and immigrant children and families in the United States. He and his wife, Yohana Carrillo, originally launched a tutoring program to offer young newcomers the kind of support he got from the priest three decades ago.

“What I see in them is what Father Tony saw in me: kids that – given the opportunity – can have a better future,” says Juan Torres.

The need for tutoring is great, he says, because parents ­– many of whom are working construction and plant nursery jobs – lack sufficient English to help their children with their homework. Some weeks, as many as 75 A 100 people have shown up weekly for tutoring or English and GED classes.

”We welcome the whole family,” says Torres.

The tutoring program has grown into BELONG, a program that supports immigrant families to become self-sufficient with access to education. The organization offers other resources too, such as healthcare through collaboration with the USA College of Medicine.

Torres says he has already realized his version of the American Dream. For him, it’s about remembering where he comes from and continuing to pay it forward.

Storycorps logoListen to Juan and his wife talk to their son about paying it forward on StoryCorps, originally broadcast on Alabama Public Radio in May 2018.

Comprare una camicia per accogliere i rifugiati e gli immigrati

Inviare i nuovi arrivati un messaggio che possano capire. Disponibile in camicie 8 Lingue. "Benvenuto. Questa è la tua casa, Anche."

Acquista ora una camicia!

Circa Carol McPhail
Carol McPhail is a writer and the assistant director of Marketing and Communications for the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell Cancer Institute. She wrote a longer version of this piece about Juan and his work for the news website, which has kindly allowed us to update and retell his story here.