As a high school student, Gabriela Garcia-Perez ’24 founded the Community Integration Mentoring Program, which has created opportunities for mentorship, education, and community involvement among local high school and elementary school students.

August 25, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing & Communications

Gabriela Garcia-Perez and students
Gabriela Garcia-Perez ’24 (left) founded CIMP.

When Gabriela Garcia-Perez ’24 was a sophomore in high school, she worked on a capstone project that soon grew into an organization that has united a diverse group of local students.

A business management major, Garcia-Perez founded Community Integration Mentoring Program (CIMP) to bring together high school students and students at Fair Haven Pre K-8 School in New Haven. It enables students of different communities, ages, cultures, and backgrounds to learn from each other while cultivating a sense of community.

Group of student volunteers
CIMP enables students to learn from each other while cultivating a sense of community.

As part of the program the high school students serve as mentors, working with the younger students in small groups. They have been familiar faces at Fair Haven’s Saturday Academy program, an enrichment experience that enables Fair Haven students to enhance their academic and interpersonal skills. They work on projects that teach the importance of community involvement and attend classes together – including salsa classes – and build a rapport and a sense of community.

“Each session on Saturday mornings gives me hope that in the future, people will be more caring toward others,” said Garcia-Perez, a graduate of Guilford High School. “This helps the students learn from a diverse group of people while fostering a caring environment.”

Mentors have worked on a variety of projects with the students, including projects that foster caring for the environment. Before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, they wove mats out of plastic bags that they donated to homeless shelters – enabling students to learn about plastic bag pollution and homelessness.

‘It’s great to see how younger kids learn from high school students’

Garcia-Perez, whose first language was Spanish, and her fellow volunteers also help the younger students develop their English skills, as many are learning English as a second language. She hopes that by giving them opportunities to practice their skills and interact with their mentors in English, they will continue to develop their language skills.

Students collecting items for food drive
CIMP volunteers have collected thousands of pounds of food for those in need in the community.

“After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, I realized how hard it would be for families entering the New Haven school system who didn’t have strong English skills,” she said. “It’s great to see how younger kids learn from high school students. Everyone learns from each other.”

Although the students and mentors were no longer able to learn together in person after the outbreak of the coronavirus, mentorship continued online. CIMP volunteers also expanded their work to help families in the community dealing with food insecurity amid the pandemic. They partnered with several area organizations – including Guilford High School’s student senate – to raise money for grocery store gift cards. They also collected thousands of pounds of food for those in need in the community.

Garcia-Perez’s volunteer work has been recognized nationally, as she was one of 102 youth volunteers to receive a Prudential Spirit of Community Award for her service. Honorees typically receive a trip to Washington, D.C., to attend the program’s recognition celebration. This year a three-day online celebration was held instead because of the pandemic. Honorees also receive funds to donate to local COVID-19 response efforts as well as a scholarship.

Group of student volunteers
CIMP enables students to learn from each other while cultivating a sense of community.

A member of the University’s women’s soccer team, Garcia-Perez hopes to make CIMP a nonprofit organization. Her work with the program has enabled her to collaborate with local school administrators and educators, families in New Haven, other students, and her younger brother, who will begin high school this fall. She wants to continue to be an active member of the organization while encouraging other students to get involved.

“This has enabled me to be more well-spoken and informed of the social issues in my community,” she said. “I’m looking forward to building new friendships and connections at the University, and I’m excited to start this next chapter.”