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Young Latino Leaders Leave Washington, D.C. Empowered and Ready to Make Change in their Communities

“The most satisfying part of the [R2L NextGen] program was having so many adults believe in us. They gave us the courage to spark change in our community and the nation,” shared Gladys Sanchez, a rising senior at IDEA Quest College Preparatory in Edinburg, Texas about her CHCI R2L NextGen program experience. This year, the R2L NextGen program grew to 70 high school students from thirteen different regions across the country, a 75% increase from last year. Gladys, along with her peers, arrived on Sunday, July 26 to Washington, D.C. to participate in a week-long leadership and civic engagement program. At no cost to the participants, students received round trip travel, lodging, meals, training and a $250 gift card for professional clothing. This program was made possible because of supporters who are committed to developing the next generation of Latino leaders, including founding sponsor State Farm®; Ford Motor Company Fund, who sponsored 20 students from their Ford Driving Dreams program; Macy’s, the official wardrobe sponsor of R2L NextGen; Southwest Airlines, the official airline of CHCI Leadership Programs; Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, Inc.; and a variety of regional supporters.

Throughout the week students met prominent leaders, were active participants in workshops that helped them understand the issues affecting the Latino community, toured monuments and museums, and gained a deeper understanding of the importance of their role as engaged citizens in their communities. Students were addressed by several key leaders, including Gaby Pacheco, Program Director for The Dream.US, who offered students an inside perspective of the challenges undocumented students and their families face and how she used her voice as a powerful tool to impact the lives of others. The message of using your voice and your story was reinforced by Hector Araujo, GEAR UP Alumni and Senior Associate at PBS, who shared his personal success story and helped students understand the importance of sharing their stories to impact change in their communities. Students also learned how to help their peers make healthy choices from advocates at the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC).

On Monday, students started the day by discussing what it means to be Latino and gained a deeper understanding of the diversity among Latinos. Students had the opportunity to learn about domestic issues that impact the Latino community and expanded their understanding of how government works. In the afternoon, students participated in a coding workshop and learned about the importance of having more Latinos in the STEM field from Microsoft representatives.

On Tuesday, students were joined by members of CHCI’s Board of Directors, Advisory Council, sponsors, alumni, and CHCI staff for a mentoring luncheon at the National Education Association (NEA). This opportunity allowed students to ask our mentors questions about their career trajectories and education. Afterwards, students heard from Neil Jackson, Public Policy Analyst and past State Farm® Youth Advisory Board Member, who shared more about the importance of service learning and opportunities to stay engaged with State Farm including the Youth Advisory Board. Students ended their day with a Mock Congress where they learned how a bill becomes a law.

After two days of learning, debating, and thinking critically about issues affecting the Latino community, students spent Wednesday, July 29 using their voice on Capitol Hill. The morning activities included an intimate congressional breakfast with CHCI’s President & CEO Esther Aguilera. During this session, students were addressed by Reps. Grace Napolitano, Albio Sires, and Maria Echaveste, Co-Founder and Senior Advisor to Nueva Vista Group, LLC (NVG). Prior to founding NVG, Maria served as Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for President Clinton. During her conversation with the students she shared her upbringing and how it led her to a successful career. Following the morning session, students heard from a panel of representatives from the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association (CHSA), who shared what it is like to be involved in public policy and government.

In the afternoon, students visited the offices of their congressional members, including face-to-face meetings with Reps. Luis Gutierrez, Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Barry Loudermilk. Students like Jennifer Castillo, a rising junior at Pinkston High School in Dallas, TX, shared that they left D.C. feeling like their voice actually mattered. Says Jennifer, “I have learned that no matter who you are or where you are from, you can make your voice be heard.”

As part of their R2L NextGen experience, students attended the CHCI Summer Programs Farewell Reception and received an official CHCI alumni pin. The event was a joint celebration with the CHCI Summer Congressional Internship Program participants at the Congressional Auditorium, Capitol Visitor Center. Students had the opportunity to hear from CHCI Board Chair Rep. Linda T. Sánchez and Reps. Jim Costa, Henry Cuellar, Ruben Gallego, Raúl Grijalva, Ben Ray Luján, Grace Napolitano, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Lucille Roybal-Allard, who stopped by to congratulate them on their accomplishments.

The week closed out with students critically thinking about how they will take what they learned here back to their communities. Participants from each of the thirteen regions worked together to identify a community issue they want to tackle as a group, and thought through how they would hold each other accountable to take the next steps. The students left empowered and ready to take charge as leaders in their communities. Amy Guerrero, a sophomore at the Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet High School (Madison, Tennessee), shared “For the first time in my life, I truly believe that my voice can make an impact in my local community. I’m excited to step up and become a leader in my community.”

CHCI is proud to count on the continued support of its generous sponsors to make this transformative program available to deserving high school leaders from across the nation. Including regional sponsors:

Central Valley of California Regional Fund
Pacific Gas & Electric Company
The California Endowment

Chicago Regional Fund
Latinos @ Baxter

Dallas Regional Fund
Dallas Youth Promise Fund
Ford Motor Company Fund

New York Regional Fund
Popular Community Bank

Northern New Jersey Regional Fund
Inca Kola

Puerto Rico Regional Fund
Wal-mart Puerto Rico

San Jose Regional Fund
The Castellano Family Foundation

South Florida Regional Fund
Centene Corporation

South Texas Regional Fund
South Texas Youth Promise Fund

Washington, DC Regional Fund
The Carlos Pacanins-Machado Memorial Fund
CHCI Staff Giving Campaign