In collaboration with Diana Araujo AVP Education at L.Y.H.E.P
Despite the fact that New York City is known for the diversity of its people, growing up as immigrant youth in this colorful city is not so easy. Limited opportunities due to language barriers, immigration status, family separation, work responsibilities, trauma or lack of support are some of the various factors that constantly affect the lives of many young immigrants.
Two Colombian residents from Queens and a Dominican Resident of the Bronx came together at the end of 2008 and decided to start an organization in that community with the goal of supporting recent immigrant families gain access to higher education. John Moreno-Escobar, Sonia Sendoya and Amada Santiago, with the help of many other Latino College students from Baruch College - CUNY, founded Latino Youth for higher Education program (LYHEP). The nonprofit organization aims to increase and diffuse the tools necessary to empower young Latino recent immigrants to engage, explore and develop their own skills by providing them with opportunities that will foster great minds for the future.
LYHEP started at a local High School in Queens (Pan American International HS), a school that consists completely of Latino immigrant students, where the program became the backbone of all the college related activities. Latino college volunteers - mainly from Baruch College - CUNY - went to the school every week to share their experience, tutor and mentor high school students. LYHEP created bilingual college readiness workshops to engage parents and students around preparing, applying and paying for college.
In 2013, LYHEP launched a Youth Citywide Youth leadership academy named Camino al Futuro - Road to the Future with the leadership of the Co - Founders and Diana Araujo (who has become a critical individual of the success of the organization), currently the AVP of Education and native of Ecuador. LYHEP has been always been conscious of the realities of immigrant youth and thus bought it to light in Camino al Futuro's curriculum, a year-round self-exploration and college readiness program designed for recently arrived immigrant youth living in the five boroughs of New York City. Camino al Futuro is made of an intensive weekly summer program and a monthly follow-up component during the rest of the year that takes place in public spaces in New York City, including parks, museums, and college campuses. All active students transition to a continued program that supports them until they graduate from high school. The program serves more than 40 high school immigrant youth who have applied to the program since its launch in June 2013. Attendance rate reaches 85% percent almost every time we meet, and 100% of the participants in our 2014 cohort returned to the follow-up component of our program.
Originally, Camino al Futuro was designed to continue working with immigrant youth and expose them to higher education, as previously done at Pan American International High School campus from 2008 until 2010. However, the curriculum developers and also facilitators of Camino al Futuro very quickly realized there was something magical in our program that attracted the students. "It feels like a second family," said one of the participants tearing up at the culmination of our summer program last year. The realities shared among the participants of Camino al Futuro and the creators of this program is what makes it most successful. The ability to understand and empathize with immigrant youth creates an organic bond that allows them to feel safe and comfortable in expressing themselves.
Camino al Futuro brings engaging activities that include and acknowledge all the members present. The program always starts and ends its sessions in circled groups that encourage everyone to be visible and recognized by the rest of the members. The circles also intend to provide space for conversation that explore the theme of recreating a new home in NYC, especially because the youth have been removed from places they call home. By addressing those experiences and creating these safe spaces for the youth, LYHEP is able to have conversations about college and post-secondary options. Students in Camino al Futuro attain the ability to feel comfortable exploring their Latino identity through college campus exploration trips, conversations with past LYHEP students and with the ongoing support in LYHEP.
Daniela, one of our participants in our 2015 cohort describes Camino al Futuro as
"A safe space where you can feel free to be yourself."
Edited by Edgar Acero