Catherine Cruz is a dedicated staff member of Spiritwood Manor. She has a longstanding relationship with The Boys and Girls Clubs of Bellevue where she herself was once a “club kid”. Spiritwood Manor serves Lake Hills Elementary, which has a 42% Latino population. Catherine serves as a strong female role model for all of the kids in this area. Raised by a mother of Dominican descent in a bilingual, primarily Spanish-speaking household, she keeps her Latino roots close to heart and understands the need to support others like her in the Bellevue community.
Catherine’s mother was a single parent, raising her three girls after their father passed away when Catherine was only ten. The family picked up from the Bronx, NY and moved to Bellevue to live with an uncle, where their bilingual household made Catherine feel different than her peers. As a kid she lacked confidence and was picked on because she “looked different.” Her cousin suggested that her and her sisters check out The Boys and Girls Clubs of Bellevue.
“It was a brand new world” she said. The club provided resources they lacked at home, like help with homework and arts and crafts. She specifically remembers the SMART Girls program, where the group would paint their nails and bond together over conversation. She says that it was the small acts of kindness from staff that helped her become the strong female role model she is today.
Once in high school, Catherine began noticing her friend’s general lack of interest in school. She sensed a lingering stigma in her community of what it meant to receive a higher education; many of her peers perceived it as “selling out,” felt unworthy of going, or simply didn’t have the means. Her mother was forced to drop out of school in the eighth grade to care for her family and refused to let the same happen to her daughters. With encouragement from her family, after high school Catherine studied theatre at Bellevue College while working for the club at Hidden Village. During that time she began to feel attached to the work she was doing at the club and realized that working with kids was what she wanted to be doing with her life. She switched her major and graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in social work.
Catherine has come full circle, as she is now a program staff at Spiritwood Manor, guiding the children with homework help, fitness, nutrition, and digital arts programs. She plans to continue a career in the non-profit sector, and hopes that sharing her story with those who often feel like outcasts, will empower them to overcome their adversities. She meets kids like her that live in Spiritwood, where she was raised, and sees opportunity to give back.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, it only matters where you’re going,” she says.