Developing the Next Generation of Civic Minded Latino Leaders in Washington, D.C.

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“It was a surreal experience. I couldn’t believe that I was selected out of nearly 300 applicants for CHCI’s R2L NextGen program,” explained Denise Barrios, a rising high school senior at Social Justice Humanitas Academy in Los Angeles. Denise and 39 other high school students arrived on Sunday, July 14 to Washington, D.C. from ten regions across the country 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 wardrobe gift card. This program was made possible by supporters who are committed to developing the next generation of Latino leaders including founding sponsor State Farm Insurance; Southwest Airlines, the official airline of CHCI Leadership Programs; Macy’sthe official wardrobe sponsor of R2L NextGen; and a variety of regional

Throughout the week participants met key leaders, attended briefings about issues affecting the Latino community, toured monuments and museums, and garnered a deeper understanding of their role as engaged citizens. Students were addressed by several prominent leaders, including CHCI alumna Alejandra Ceja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, who shared her personal success story and helped the students understand that anything is possible with hard work and an education. Maria Gomez, President and CEO of the Mary’s Center – a federally qualified health center providing services to Latinos in Washington, D.C. – shared health policy issues affecting the community. Additionally, participants met with representatives from the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) and the Organization of American States (OAS).

On Tuesday, students were joined by members of CHCI’s Board of Directors, Advisory Council, sponsors, alumni and CHCI staff for a mentoring luncheon. This opportunity allowed students to ask our mentors questions about their career trajectories and their education. Students like Jorge Barrios, a rising senior at Thomas Kelly High School in Chicago, walked away inspired by the mentors’ stories. “This session served as a motivational boost for me and it solidified the long-term value of graduating from college.” Afterwards, students heard from Xochitl Yañez of founding sponsor State Farm Insurance, who shared more about the importance of safe driving and State Farm’s Celebrate My Drive initiative.

After two days of discussing, debating and thinking critically about issues affecting the community, students spent Wednesday, July 17 on Capitol Hill, ready to engage with members of congress.  The morning activities included an intimate congressional breakfast with CHCI’s President & CEO Esther Aguilera. During this session, students were addressed by Reps. Albio Sires and Ben Ray Lujan, who shared their personal insights and journey to become leaders in their community.  Following the morning session, students heard from a panel of representatives from the Congressional Hispanic Staffers Association (CHSA) who shared their experiences as Latino servant leaders on Capitol Hill.

In the afternoon, students visited the offices of their congressional members, including face-to-face meetings with Reps. Xavier Becerra, Tony Cardenas, Joaquín Castro, Jim Costa, Ed Pastor and Lucille Roybal-Allard. Students like Fernando Almaraz, a rising senior at Buhach Colony High School in Merced, California who aspires to be a politician one day, shared that they left D.C. inspired after meeting members of congress. “I enjoyed learning about the life of a politician and how they advocate for our community. I know now that anything is possible with hard work and dedication,” said Fernando,.

Later that evening, participants received a graduation certificate and an official CHCI pin during the Summer Programs Graduation Networking Reception. The event was a joint graduation reception with the CHCI Summer Congressional Internship Program participants at the Rayburn House Office Building. Students had the opportunity to hear from the Honorable Chairman Rubén Hinojosa and Reps. Joe Garcia and Jim Costa, who stopped by to congratulate them on their accomplishments.

The week concluded with a visit from CHCI alumnus Jason Llorenz who welcomed the students to the CHCI familia and shared inspiring words. In addition to congratulating them, Jason stressed the importance of repaying the opportunity given to them by CHCI by graduating high school, continuing their studies, and giving back to their community. Students left ready to rise to the challenge. Said Isaac Martinez, a rising sophomore at Wilmer Hutchins High School in Dallas, “I can’t let my community down. I am returning home with so much knowledge and I cannot let this experience go to waste.” Isaac has not wasted a minute; since his return home, he has connected with school officials to propose creating a Latino club on his campus to offer other students the support and encouragement they need to be leaders.

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

Click here to learn more about R2L NextGen and find out how you can help provide a life-changing experience for high school students in your community.