CHCI’s Inaugural High School Latino Leaders in D.C. Program Provides Exceptional Leadership Development Experience for Participants
Twenty ambitious high school students traveled to Washington, D.C. from Miami, New York, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Dallas to participate in CHCI’s Inaugural High School Latino Leaders in D.C. Program held July 10-15. The youth selected attended one of CHCI’s Ready to Lead (R2L) college readiness programs during the 2010-11 academic year. All of the students came from low-income families and represented the diverse range of students who participate in the R2L program each year.
In partnership with the Close Up Foundation and State Farm Insurance, CHCI brought the students to D.C. to learn about how the Federal Government works, the importance of being civically engaged, and how they can affect positive change in their communities.
It was an exciting week that included visits to monuments, museums, the U.S. Capitol, and a variety of opportunities to interact with prominent Latinos working in public policy and government. The students met with representatives from the Congressional Hispanic Staffers Association, the CHCI Alumni Association, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
On Wednesday, CHCI President & CEO Esther Aguilera hosted a congressional breakfast for the students with visits from members of Congress including Reps. Charles Gonzalez, Joe Baca, Ed Pastor, Lucille Roybal-Allard, and Albio Sires, who shared insights on their background and the work that they do in Congress. Later that day, students visited the offices of their congressional members while also meeting with Reps. Grace Flores Napolitano and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Many students reflected on that the day on Capitol Hill of how it changed their perception of Congress and made them more aware of the need for greater representation of Latinos in government. “It was a complete eye opener to how government only works under the influence of the people. Now I really want to go back home and enlighten people and make them become civically engaged and get Hispanics more representation in government. I want to make a change!” said Miami student Michael Reyes.
Students were also able to join CHCI representatives for two mentoring luncheons. On Wednesday, the high school students dined with the CHCI Summer Congressional Interns and learned more about their internship experience. On Thursday, students were joined by members of CHCI’s Board of Directors and program sponsors for a mentoring luncheon. These one-on-one interactions with college students and successful professionals had a profound impact on students. “It was interesting to hear a little bit of their story. They have really inspired me!” said Dallas student Veronica Morales.
The experience was transformational for all involved. Students left Washington, D.C. feeling support from a variety of sources and were determined to make a difference in their communities. For some, the program even inspired them to career paths they had never considered. “I feel like I need to come back to Washington; I would love to one day be a part of my government. I am so thankful to CHCI for even giving me the chance to come here and introduce me to a whole new lifestyle that really interests me and will have an impact on me forever,” said Los Angeles student Michael Alvarez.