Get to know Sione Ma’ufualu

Sione Ma’ufualu lives in East Palo Alto, CA...

and attended Carlmont High School. During his Freshman year he began working out at The Riekes Center. He then got involved in Student Services. Sione is now going strong on his fourth year as staff.  Aside from his involvement at The Riekes Center, he is currently studying respiratory therapy at Foothill College. We had a chance to sit down with Sione to talk shop as well as what his spirit animal is...

Where were you born?

I was born here in the bay area. I’m originally from Palo Alto, California.

Is there a story behind your name?

Not really. It’s just John in English, I’m Tongan that’s where it came from.

What brought you to The Riekes Center?

I came here my freshman year of high school. Through the EPATT program, it was my first year of doing EPATT, and then over the summer they brought me here.  I took a tour with Justin Shetler, he gave me my first tour and then I stuck around after that.  With the school yearl…I trained for Football and Tennis, those are the sports I played. I kept playing sports throughout high school and my sports changed but I stayed here at the Center.

What stood out to you during that tour with Justin

At first when I came here I thought it was just a gym, what most people think, but then there is so much more.  There’s Nature Awareness and Creative Arts...and it was a lot to take in but it was really cool.  Yeah...I was just blown away by all the things they offer here.

How old were you?

Fourteen at the time, I started doing CORE through EPATT then I worked out here till Junior year and then Lex asked if I could do student services.

Describe your job.

My job here at The Riekes Center is, well I have two main jobs, the first job is student services manager. So kids come here and they do student services where they are involved in community service, the work trade program, and also volunteer work so I manage all of that. See if they get their paperwork in, stuff like that, they get their schedules all set up and then they learn all about student services at The Riekes Center. And my second role here is in the front desk, I just meet and greet people. I hand them their workouts, if people have questions about the Center they give us a call and I answer them.

What was the first experience having responsibility as a Student Services manager like?

It was a little crazy at first. Cause when I first became a manager there was a lot to do, so it was a little hectic, but I had a support from the other student service managers and Lex. Dealing with the kids was fun and enjoyable.  Just getting to see them grow.  I get a student and they don’t know much but once they’ve been here awhile they can give tours and  take workouts.  Ya know, most of them start off pretty shy, but now they are just full grown, just everywhere and now they just take it and I stay quiet….which you know is a blessing and a curse.

What is your favorite aspect of your job?

Probably just interacting with people, mostly the kids. They’re hilarious, so that’s the best part. And The Riekes Center is really cool about that just because there’s different people doing different programs so I meet people who are doing athletics, creative arts, and also the nature program.

How would you describe the working experience.  What feels do you get?

Ya know, when I come in it’s usually hectic at first, lots’ to do. It’s the Riekes Center, just the way it is.  Things get piled up but we work through it.   But I never feel like I’m not being helped.  There’s always someone with me at the front desk helping me when the hours get busy.  Helping check people in when the hours get super busy.  When I do student services, I have a co-manager that helps me get the students ready.  

What is your favorite memory?

My first time coming to The Riekes Center, just because I didn’t really know anything about it.I thought it was just a gym and I just really wanted to workout here. Then I heard about other programs that they offer here and I got super interested.

What inspires you about The Riekes Center?

I definitely like helping people. I enjoy meeting new people. I meet a new person here like everyday and I’ve been here for four years. So there’s always new people coming here with different backgrounds.

How has this work affected your life with school or family? Has it had an impact on you?

Yeah! Now when I am outside in the world, I put myself in other people's shoes, I just have a better understanding of people. I don’t jump to conclusions.  I definitely want to see what they go through before I make a judgement.  I wasn’t really like that before.  I would jump to conclusions.  Always thought whatever my first impression of the person was.  But working at the Riekes Center, I always try to take time to get to know the person a little bit better before making a judgement.

How was that value instilled in you?

Gary and Lex tell me to always keep an open mind when I work with different people from different backgrounds.  That helps me be better, getting to know them a little bit more and their different stories. And now I just do that with every new student I get.

What is your spirit animal?

My spirit animal would definitely be a Llama because they’re cool and they eat vigorously.

What was your first impression of Gary?

(Laughs) Uhmmm...He’s a funny guy.  Ya know when I first met him he pulled me into his office and he had a fart machine in the back.  And then the fart machine went off and he was like, “Oh Sione, that was really gross!”. I kinda got really embarrassed but he was teaching me to lighten it up a little bit...he just does those kinds of things, to make the mood a little bit lighter.  He knows people are nervous when they first meet him. That’s just his way of getting to know people.  It was really cool….It was really different….that’s why I thought it was cool.  I had never met a person who hides fart machines behind their doors  and takes such a different view on things.

Out of all the staff here who inspires you the most? Why?

Definitely be Richard Wilkins, the front desk manager. I do tell everyone he’s my mortal enemy, but no I really like him. He works really hard at the front desk, he has taught me so much over the past year about working at the front desk. Just dealing with a lot of people with different backgrounds and stuff. How to approach people.

You’ve made a lot of friends here, so do you hang out with people outside of work?

Yeah!  Richard and I watch football together...we have a fantasy football league


Yeah!  We have a football fantasy league here at the Riekes Center.

Can anyone join?

Yeah, anyone can join!  Just let us know at the beginning of the season.  Ya know sometimes friendships are tested…(laughs) during the week, but it’s all in good fun.  We just talk about what went wrong.  Ya know we take it with a grain of salt.

What is one thing about you that is unexpected?

What’s really unexpected about me is I like to take long walks on the beach.

What advice would you give to a young student who is interested in working here?

Just come in and go with it!  It seems crazy at first, but the more you come in the more fun you’ll have.  Things seem different at first., but just embrace the difference and you’ll get used to it.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

I’ll definitely be here, working out, helping out.  20 years from now...I want to work in a hospital.  Ya know, with pediatrics, definitely with kids. My time working with people younger than me taught me a lot that I want to work with kids as a profession.  

Describe The Riekes Center in one word.

If I could describe The Riekes Center in one word it’d definitely be “welcoming”.