Her constant involvement with the YMCA as a kid did more than prepare her for her career as an adult—it gave Saadia Aurakzai the opportunity to experience the joy a child can bring to your life.
Aurakzai explained to Patch how her work with children has filled her heart and given meaning to her life. The YMCA offers children and parents the chance to grow and get involved within their community, and in the process Aurakzai said she has also grown as a person through her work there.
Mountain View Patch: Where do you live?
Saadia Aurakzai: I live here in Mountain View. I live in the neighborhood behind .
Patch: Where did you grow up?
Aurakzai: I grew up here. Actually I was born in , so full circle and now I work at the . It’s definitely my favorite community. I love it here.
My dad is Pakistani. We lived on the border of Mountain View and Los Altos. We also lived in Cupertino for a few years, for my younger brothers due to [the fact] they have a better academic system than we do. So we lived there for a few years when I was younger, but my whole life I have been right on the border of Mountain View and Los Altos.
Patch: How did you get involved with the YMCA?
Aurakzai: I was a YMCA kid myself. I was an only child [for awhile] and my parents would let me sign up for summer camp. I would do the Palo Alto Resident Camp and they also had me do some of the day camps as well, and sometimes I did the after school programs. I loved the programs.
I didn’t originally start at the Y, as in ‘I am going to work at the Y,’ but it kind of fell in my lap because I was doing different things here and for the city of Mountain View. Someone came forward and said ‘why don’t you actually work for the Y’ and I didn’t even know they had childcare or camps here within our city, so I interviewed. I have been there for 10 years now.
Patch: What is your job there?
Aurakzai: My title is the Childcare Program Director, so I oversee 10 childcare sites here in Mountain View and in Los Altos. We have 500 families we serve. We have a very large childcare program, because we are at every Mountain View elementary school and we also have two preschools.
In the summer, while we are getting ready for school in August, I usually assist with the summer camp programs. I oversee the teen programs and the travel camp, and they are all based in Mountain View as well.
Patch: What training or experience did you receive prior to your current job?
Aurakzai: I have a double major from San Jose State in psychology and behavioral science, and also I had brothers born when I was a teenager, so that kind of got me interested in working with kids. I just fell in love with them. They are 15 and 17 years younger then me, so now they are teenagers and one is in college. I just fell in love with their love for life. I then worked for a preschool and with kids with special needs; that is when the Y fell in my lap.
Patch: How old are you?
Aurakzai: I’m 36.
Patch: When did you graduate from San Jose State University?
Aurakzai: In 2007.
Patch: Why did you decide to wait before starting college?
Aurakzai: I did. Basically my brothers, as I said, are younger then me. I was staying home and helping with them. Both my parents had work. Then, I went to De Anza College and got my associate degree. I took a few years to try and figure out what I wanted to do. I think most people go off to college right when they turn 18 or 19, and I kind of started around 21. From there I got my associates and then straight from there transferred to San Jose State, so I think I took a three or four year hiatus from everything to find out who I was.
Patch: Why did you decide to go back to school and get your degree?
Aurakzai: I just wanted to have my bachelor’s. I also loved psychology and I also love education. I was in love with the behavioral science program because when I was younger I saw the movie "Silence of the Lambs," and I wanted to be a profiler for the FBI. In this area, the only behavioral science program they have is at San Jose State. Most of them are near Virginia, obviously. I wasn’t going to relocate; I love California and I love Mountain View. I was taking those courses and I realized that you have to carry a gun, be a bad guy, have to deal with bad guys, and that’s not who I am. Then I really fell in love with working with kids, and I am really good at talking to kids, talking to parents and building up those relationships.
Patch: How long do you see yourself working for the YMCA? Do you have any other career goals?
Aurakzai: I think the YMCA is my career that’s why I have stayed with it for so long. I started out as a teacher at one of the childcare sites, and then I was an assistant director and now I am the program director. I see myself growing within my organization. I don’t know if it is going to be at the El Camino Y, but I see myself growing within the Y itself. I believe in what the Y is doing. I see the difference we are making in our community and the kids who come back [to visit].
The reason I do what I do, is honestly, the kids I worked with ten years ago as kindergartners are now coming back to work for me in the camps and childcare center. That’s a full circle for me and it means a lot and it says to me that I must be doing something right because they want to come back to work for the Y.
Patch: What do you like best about your job?
Aurakzai: I love the kids. I love our community. I love our parents. We have an amazing community here in Mountain View. Everywhere I go, I always know someone because we have such an interconnected group of people that pass through the doors at the Y, through our school system and through the city programs. Everyone is really involved in Mountain View; it’s like a small neighborhood almost or a small town.
Patch: What do you like least or what is the most difficult aspect of your job?
Aurakzai: Like any job, there are a hard times. Dealing with things like child abuse or not being able to help as many people as we would like to help. We deal a lot more with an affluent community, so it’s hard because we would like to reach out more to the families that need us and really need the YMCA. We don’t have any grant programs like our southern branches do in San Jose and it would be great if we could do things like that.
Patch: What activities do you offer to children?
Aurakzai: Everything. All the childcare centers offer curriculum; we do science, we do art, we do cooking.
We have physical education; we basically just provide things that children can learn and thrive from. We also do a lot of nutritional education and making good choices. It is very diverse. Every site is very different and they offer different things that will meet the needs of their community at that location.
Patch: Do you work directly with the children?
Aurakzai: No, I am now in the office, but for seven years I was at one of our childcare sites as a site director at Huff Kid’s Place which is at . At that time our  superintendent Craig Goldman was our principal. It was pretty cool because he was a great leader to learn from and he really loved what he did. Then I became the program director, so now I am starting the programs and opening the sites. We are opening two sites in the fall, which is really exciting. I deal with the parents too; the management side of things.
Patch: Do you miss working with the kids?
Aurakzai: Yes, I absolutely do. I miss the kids. I miss the parents. I miss our community, because I think my biggest strength is networking and not only that but building relationships with people.
Your heart gets filled working directly with the kids and your mind is also filled as well. I think what I am doing now is helping me personally grow as an individual, as well as helping me advance as a leader. But the immediate results you get from working with children everyday fills your heart. In the office, it is slower, but the kids come visit me in the office everyday.
Patch: Do you have kids of your own?
Aurakzai: I do not. I am not quite there yet in life. I would love to have children. I think one of the reasons why I have waited so long to not have kids is because I love these kids so much that I come across. Sometimes I look at our principals and our teachers and I go 'how do you work with kids all day and then go home and still give love to your own kids?' They are like it is very hard, but it’s almost like there is a sub well of love that you have just for your kids and not for the kids you work with directly and I haven’t learned that yet.
I also think I haven’t found the right person, so I think I am going down that path and I hope to soon in the future.