Twin Oaks Inspires High Hopes and Dinosaur Dreams

August 8, 2017

Twin Oaks Project Inspires High Hopes and Dinosaur Dreams

By: Sheryl Wilde

The page is carefully colored-in with crayons – the colors never going outside the lines.  In the picture, set against a backdrop of rolling green hills, a pink lamb, wearing a purple tutu, with matching mittens and booties, sits atop a dinosaur colored in violet and green.

The top right hand side of the page is ragged, torn from a child’s coloring book.  Printed across the top of the page are four words:

From, Luis.  To, Christine.

They are the last four words ever written by Luis.  They were written just over 5 ½ hours before his death.  They were written to our Mountain Shadows Outreach client, Christine.

A young man with a troubled past, Luis wasn’t able to make it at public high school.  When Claudia Hernandez met him, he was enrolled at Twin Oaks High School, a continuation school, where she works as a teacher.

“Many people see Twin Oaks as a school of last chances.  We see it as a school of hope, opportunity and second – even third and fourth – chances!  Most of our students come to us very broken.  They’ve been kicked out of other schools.  Many say Twin Oaks is where the bad kids go.  We say there are no bad kids.  They all have value.  They can all contribute.  We have to value their talents.”

They all have value.  They can all contribute.  We have to value their talents.

We hold these same beliefs about our Mountain Shadows Outreach clients.  They are often labeled – in a different way, but still they are labeled – and they are often forgotten or tossed aside by mainstream society.  Perhaps this – this shared ground – is why the students of Twin Oaks and the clients of Mountain Shadows developed such an immediate and deep bond.  And why Luis and Christine shared such a unique and unexpected friendship.

“Claudia established a volunteer program between Twin Oaks High School and Outreach several years ago,” says Fred Lindahl, Development Director, Mountain Shadows Foundation.  “Our clients and staff just love Claudia, her husband, Jesus, and all of the students.”

“When we decided we wanted to do community outreach, I immediately said, ‘We have to go to Mountain Shadows!'” says Claudia.  “When I was 10 or 11-years-old, my parents took me to Mountain Shadows Community Homes to do volunteer work through our church.  I had never worked with the disabled before.  It was such an eye-opener.  It put so much into perspective.  It enabled me to feel so grateful for all of the blessings I had.

“Working with the Mountain Shadows residents as a child was an unforgettable experience.  Twenty years later, when we decided to build a volunteer program at Twin Oaks High School, Mountain Shadows came to mind immediately!”

Says Flor Angel, Director, Outreach Day Program, “The clients love Claudia and Jesus and all of the students.  They are so loving and caring.  The students and clients work together, one-to-one.  They build real relationships.  They paint together, play cards, read, sing.  One of the students and our Outreach client, Bruce, are learning sign language together!  The Twin Oaks music teacher brings the school band here 2 to 3 times a year.  They always ask for requests – and Kenny from Mountain Shadows Birch house always has a request.”

“The Mountain Shadows staff and clients always make us feel so welcome,” adds Claudia.  “They treat us as family now.  Kenny is always at the door waiting for us when we come to visit.  The clients are so excited when we come.  It’s an experience our students love.  Mountain Shadows is a place where they feel loved, cherished, looked for.   It’s a win all around.

“My husband, Jesus, is the woodshop teacher at Twin Oaks.  When he wanted to do a project with his class, as a group, for the community, we knew it had to be for Mountain Shadows.”

Says Jesus, “I want to teach my students skills that will be useful in the future.  When we approached Mountain Shadows about doing a project, they said it would be great if we could build them two picnic tables.

“It was a great experience for my students.  They really worked hard and were really into it.  They did everything – they purchased the lumber, cut it, stained it, everything.  They finished in three weeks and it turned out great!  It was amazing to watch them work together.

“When the tables were finished, our Vice President loaded the tables in his truck and we hauled them over to Outreach.  The clients and staff were all waiting outside for us.  Everyone was taking pictures.  The clients couldn’t wait to sit at the picnic tables.

“It was such a great experience for my students to do something for the community.  It was awesome to see the looks on their faces.  They were all moved by it.  They were proud to have made these tables for a purpose.  They sat on the tables they’d built with their own hands, with the Outreach clients, as friends.  It was a happy moment for everyone.  It’s an experience they will take with them forever.”

Adds Claudia, “Working with the Mountain Shadows Outreach clients is the experience of a lifetime for our students.  The clients and staff have such beautiful hearts.

“This all started as a one time a week program.  We took 7 students to Outreach every Thursday afternoon.  Our students absolutely loved it and we soon had a backlog of kids wanting to go, so we started going twice a week – every Tuesday and Thursday!

“Luis had been going to Outreach with me every Thursday for six weeks.  On Tuesday, October 25th, he came to my classroom unexpectedly and asked if I had room to take him.  He was not scheduled to go with me to Mountain Shadows that day, but another student had cancelled, so I said yes, please come with us.

“That day, Luis worked with Outreach client, Christine.  Christine is one of the sweetest clients at Mountain Shadows.  She is in a wheelchair.  She’s an older lady and always has something sweet to say.  Luis spent the whole time with her that day.

“When I went over to check on them, I said, ‘Hi Christine!  I see you are working with Luis today!’  She said, ‘Yes, he is so sweet, so smart, so kind.  That is why I like him.  I colored this for him.’

“She held up a coloring page and gave it to Luis.

“Luis was so happy!  He said, ‘Look what Christine colored for me!’  He was so proud.  Then he colored a page for her.

“At 2 pm I told the kids it was time to go.  Luis said, ‘Bye, Christine!’  Then he said to me, ‘Wait up!’ and he turned around and hugged Christine so hard.  It was the biggest hug ever!!!

“In the car on the way home, Luis said, ‘I am so happy about my picture.  I am going to keep it forever!

“Earlier, Luis had told me he wanted to graduate early.  He said he had plans to be a carpenter.  He said, ‘I really need to get out of San Marcos.  I really want to do something different and leave this city.’  I told him, ‘You can do it.  You will graduate early, leave the city, and go do wonderful things.’  And he said, ‘I will.  I will.  Thank you.

“On that last Tuesday, after we left Outreach, I dropped Luis off at 2:20 pm.  His last words to me were, ‘Thank you.  Thank you for the ride!’

“Luis was gunned down at 8 pm that night.  They believe it was gang related.  He was just 17-years-old.

“The day after his death, I was just lost.  I told my mother about the incident.  My parents are very religious and I knew that I could ask them to pray for Luis.

“When my mother came to visit me, I finally found the words that put me at ease.  She said to me, ‘Mija, Luis fulfilled all the promises he made to you. He said what he was going to do.  He told you he was going to leave San Marcos.  That is exactly what he did.  He left to go to a better place.  What better place is there to go than heaven?  He told you he wanted to graduate early.  He did.  He graduated and he could be with no better teacher than our heavenly Father.

“I do believe Luis had been preparing his soul to be in a better place.  He had been doing so great.  For the last six weeks of his life, he had been spending his time with the most innocent and pure of people – the clients of Mountain Shadows.

“I’ve never been around more humble people – people closer to God – than the Outreach clients.  Maybe that’s why our students connect with them so easily.”

And maybe that’s why Luis connected with Christine so easily.  And why a troubled and lost teenager found it in his heart to color a pink lamb, sitting atop a violet and green dinosaur, for his newfound friend.

“I will forever be left with the memory of Luis hugging Christine.  It was so beautiful, and at that moment, I felt so much love and so much peace from him.”

It is our hope that now Luis has found eternal peace in the arms of God.

When one dreams of dinosaurs, it signifies the time

To leave things behind and move ahead has arrived.

~from the Dream Dictionary

Thank you to Claudia, Jesus, Luis, and all of the Twin Oaks High School students for your friendship and loving support of our Mountain Shadows clients.