Cheerleader of the Week: Betsy

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Texans Cheerleader of the Week Betsy has fond memories of her rookie season.

"I can't say that there's any girl on the squad that I haven't had a bond with this year," the 22-year-old graduate of Sam Houston State University said. "I'm taking away so much friendship. I got so many opportunities that I would not have had had I not been a cheerleader, and getting to work with such a good organization – I'm so proud of the football team and how they did this year."

The Sumter, S.C., native hopes to make the squad for the second time next season, but she sounds like a veteran already from the praise of her teammates.

"She's a very hard worker and that's one of the things that always sticks out in my mind when I think of Betsy," fellow rookie Sonya said. "She's always doing her best to make sure she's got everything down perfect, and on top of that she's just a very caring and sincere and real person."

When football season ends, the Texans Cheerleaders get more time to spend with family and to do what they most enjoy.

{QUOTE}Betsy recently took that time to start volunteering at the Catholic Charities After-School and Summer Program, a local child refugee shelter.

"One of my passions in life is volunteering, helping other people out," Betsy said. "I feel like I've been really blessed in life; I've gotten so many great opportunities and I want to help people who haven't had the same opportunities as I've had to be able to have something that they can find and be passionate about, too."

The program primarily provides homework help, English Second Language instruction and life skills activities for refugee children resettled in Houston. It began as a homework assistance program for the children of a single refugee family that arrived without speaking English.

It quickly developed into a full-scale after-school program that serves children in exile from their home countries or displaced from perilous war zones.

"A program like this offers the assistance and support that they need to be able to have a shot at life here, essentially," Catholic Charities youth and literacy coordinator Joshua Melvin said. "They're going to be competing with kids who've been speaking English and grow up in English speaking households … for jobs and education opportunities in another couple years, and without a little bit of help, it's going to be very, very difficult for them.

"We're trying to make lemonade out of lemons. They're brought here in a really bad state. They were forced to leave their country. But what we're giving them here is perhaps a whole new chance at a whole new life."

The program relies almost completely on volunteers like Betsy, who helped the children with homework, puzzles and reading before taking them outside for games and a period of dance instruction that she plans to continue for the next six weeks.

"It was really inspiring to see them learn something and to be able to dance and just move around and express how they felt," Betsy said. "Just seeing their gorgeous faces – they're so eager to learn. They're so ready to be over here and to assimilate and to just be normal kids."

Betsy hopes that her dance program will spark an interest in dance and possibly cheerleading for some of the children. More than anything, she hopes to be a positive role model that the children can feel comfortable around and from whom they can absorb bits and pieces of American culture.

"It's hard enough growing up, but when you throw in a background like what they're coming from and also having to learn the language and keep up in school work and learn all the things that one has to learn in life but do it in a language that's not your own, that's really hard," Betsy said.

"To be able to be someone that can go in and help them and just give them a little boost and just tell them that they can do it, that's really all they need. Hopefully … they can see that life in America doesn't always have to be scary and there are nice people over here that can help them."

Betsy is used to dealing with rowdy youngsters – she has four younger brothers – which prepared her well for the challenge of keeping the attention of a large crowd of excitable children.

"It's not an easy group because we've got 39 kids and they've got a lot of energy," Melvin said, "but Betsy got in front of them with a lot of energy and positivity, managed to get the kids to do sort of a short little dance routine, and it's pretty impressive to see someone who can just step up in front of an audience and kind of take control and get people to enjoy themselves and participate."

Melvin, one of two full-time staff members who oversee the after-school program, hopes that having a Texans Cheerleader as a volunteer will attract more attention to the organization.

"We always need help," he said. "It's not that there's not enough people that are interested, but it's just that we need to get the word out and let more people know because I think if people knew about the program or just had one chance to meet the kids, I think they'd really want to pitch in and help out."

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