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CHCI's High School Latino Leaders in D.C. (HSLLDC) Participants Leave Inspired and Ready To Lead (R2L)

On July 22, CHCI welcomed the HSLLDC participants for a week of leadership development in our nation’s capitol. Forty dynamic Latino leaders were selected from nine cities to participate in this unique national program for high school students. Through the support of founding sponsor State Farm Insurance, as well as Macy’s, the official HSLLDC wardrobe sponsor; Southwest Airlines, the official airline of CHCI Leadership Programs; and a variety of regional supporters, many of these students were able to experience traveling on their own for the first time. One of these students, Jose Bahena, a rising senior at CICS Ralph Ellison in Chicago, Illinois said, “I am certain that at the end of the week I am going to go home with an abundance of special memories.”

This sentiment rang true for many students as they participated in briefings, met with key leaders and garnered a deeper understanding of the importance of their role as engaged citizens. Rising junior Karen Avila from Huntington Park Senior High School in Los Angeles, California was inspired by a program featuring U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “He asked us to be leaders today and encouraged us to take action now, instead of waiting for adults to solve our community problems.” Throughout the week, participants met with leaders to learn more about public policy issues impacting the Latino community from the National Council of La Raza, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and the Mary’s Center, a federally qualified health center providing services to the Latino community in Washington, D.C. 

Armed with the knowledge of key issues impacting their communities, students spent Wednesday, July 25 on Capitol Hill. CHCI’s President & CEO Esther Aguilera hosted an intimate congressional breakfast where members of congress shared their personal insights and journey in becoming leaders. Students were addressed by Reps. Henry Cuellar, Grace Napolitano, Jim Costa, Joe Baca, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Pedro Pierluisi, and Xavier Becerra. The morning activities concluded with a panel of representatives from the Congressional Hispanic Staffers Association (CHSA) who shared their paths from college to becoming servant leaders on Capitol Hill.


In the afternoon, students visited the offices of their congressional members, including face to face meetings with Reps. Dennis Cardoza, Jim Costa, Charles Gonzalez, Luis Gutierrez, Ed Pastor, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Jose Serrano, Nydia Velazquez, and Senator Marco Rubio. For many students, this was the first time meeting with a member of congress. Rising senior Jasmine Palomares at McCollum High School in San Antonio, Texas describes the day time activities as empowering. “I am inspired from our meetings with so many influential people in our government that care about the opinions of high school students. I learned more about politics and how our government functions today than I have in my entire life.”  Wednesday concluded with the Summer Programs Graduation Networking Reception, a joint graduation reception with the CHCI Summer Congressional Internship Program participants at the Library of Congress.

On Thursday, students were joined by members of CHCI’s Board of Directors, Advisory Council and sponsors for a mentoring luncheon. These one-on-one interactions with successful professionals had a profound impact on students. Afterwards, students heard from founding sponsor State Farm Insurance, learning more about the importance of safe driving. Students took a verbal pledge to drive safely on the road and saw a video about the damaging effects of careless drivers.

The week concluded with a tour of the White House. The experience was transformational for all involved. Students left Washington, D.C. feeling hopeful and supported to make a tangible difference in their communities. For some, the program even inspired them to career paths they had never considered. The life changing experience can be summarized by Frank Trujillo, a rising senior at Westland Hialeah Senior High School in Hialeah, Florida. “Before the HSLLDC training, I was a high school student with good grades. Now not only am I a committed student, I am also a part of the prosperous future of our nation. What I learned with CHCI in just one week will be applied in all aspects of my life so that I may become one of the great leaders that the Latino community needs.”