La Oferta

December 5, 2023

Young Latino Leaders an alliance of school youth working to improve their neighborhoods

April 17, 1996

By Yolanda Reynolds

Photo: by Mary Andrade

La Oferta Newspaper.

Last Thursday about 50 young people, all members of the Young Latino Leaders program based in Redwood City and East Palo Alto, gathered to finalize their work and planning for a Saturday morning parade in Redwood City in honor of Cesar Chavez.

This program has brought together some very bright and energetic Latino youth who are interested in community service and in developing their leadership skills while, at the same time, earning credit for scholarship grants to help them when they go on to college.

The program, which has 88 members, includes young Latino students from the ages of 9 to 20 years of age who are residents of either San Mateo County or East Palo Alto.

The group includes young people like Gumersindo Barron who heard of the program from a classmate, Lucinda. He says that he wants to become an architect and is studying mathematics and art. He hopes one day to design homes.

Another young woman is Elsa Aguilera, who currently serves as the President of the group and is an honor student in high school.

Serving as Vice President is Andres Vega who is an International Karate Champion for his age group. He also represented Mexico in a Tae Kwon Do competition before moving to the United States.

Georgina Sunabria, in the 10th grade at Sequoia High School, says that she hopes to become a lawyer. She said it was her sister who encouraged her to join the group. Her sister, who will graduate from high school this year, is planning to become a nurse and plans to attend the Community College.

Maria Rosales, a junior at Sequoia High School, says that she plans to attend the University and become a psychologist. Maria wants to work with school kids.

In preparation for the parade, the students began designing the posters that they would carry in the parade. The posters were to emphasize aspects of Chavez’ life and legacy that they wanted others to remember.

Some of the thoughts that immediately surfaced was the work comprising his last big effort to eliminate the use of hazardous pesticides in the growing of grapes.

Other posters quoted Chavez push for education – not only for the children of farm workers but for the workers themselves. Other posters asked that people say “no” to drugs.

It was evident that, even though the students came from rival schools and different grade levels, there was a camaraderie and a common sense of purpose.

Indeed, the leadership program has led these young people to perform important community services. They had just completed a school cleanup that involved the removal of graffiti, weeds and trash, not only from the grounds surrounding the school, but also in cleaning up streets adjoining the school.

This past year, the Young Leaders have also been involved in helping out with a community education program on how the subject of disposing of hazardous waste and toxic materials in the County of San Mateo. Their assignment was to carry out a house to house program where the households were Spanish speaking. In preparation for their educational drive, the County publicized their visit on the Spanish language radio and publications. The students worked in pairs and wore identifying “T” shirts, identification tags and caps. The students provided each household with written and verbal information on suitable substitutes for hazardous or toxic household products. They also gave each household free oil changer containers and directions for their disposal.

For this very important work the students were rewarded with an all-day trip to Great America.

The Young Latino Leaders program raises its own scholarship funds by engaging in monthly car washes and asking for donations from the community. This year they expect to give slightly over $6,000 in scholarships. As the program is becoming better known, donations are increasing. Paul Vega, the founder of this program, says that, next fall they hope that, if they can get at least half of the people who attend Día de la Raza, an October celebration in Redwood City, to donate $1 each, they could, at that event alone, raise $15,000.

Carlos Noriega, an assistant loan officer in a local bank, says that when he heard of the program he decided to help. He has been a volunteer for the last year and a half. The program began informally almost three years ago but became a formal program two years ago.

Noriega explained that, as a youth, it was hard for him as he made his way through high school and college and that he would have benefited from the support that this group offers young people, in particular academically inclined youth.

The amount of the scholarship grants is determined by the amount of money that the group raises, and for each participant, their involvement in community service, academic performance and school attendance determines how much they will be awarded.

Vega, who works part time with the City of Menlo Park as a Community Specialist, says that he keeps very busy with his involvement as the volunteer coordinator of the Young Latino Leaders Program which, he says, requires at least 20 hours of his time each week. Noriega works very closely with Vega and this enables them to have two major activities each month. The group meets once a week but the students are limited to four hours for each activity, so that they don’t sacrifice their studies while engaging in the Program’s activities.

Vega explained that he has had many inquiries regarding this program. He says that he would like to see it expand to other communities. Vega says the intent of the program is to develop self confidence in young people. It certainly seems to succeed, as it was obvious that the youth were very willing to share their ideas with each other and enthusiastic about what they decided to do.

Vega says that, for him, the idea to begin such a group came about because, as he was growing up it was very hard for him to find his own identity. He explains that there were very few resources for someone like him, who felt that he was different and treated differently by his teachers simply because he was a Latino in a largely non-minority community. As a young man, he was angry at the world. He now wants to help young people escape that anger and use their time to better prepare themselves for their future.

Vega says that, after much self-discovery he decided that the teaching and ways of Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King were what he believed in and that their message is what he hopes the leadership program will use to inspire in young people the will to be the very best and have the confidence to follow their dreams.

The Young Latino Leaders have twice received Commendations from the California State Senate for their outstanding work. The Young Leaders have been engaged in such disparate activities as, organizing the “first Latino Bone Marrow Drive in San Mateo County.” They have, on several occasions, organized clothing, food and toy drives – including donations for the recent flood victims in Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties.

All is not work for the Young Leaders. They have, also enjoyed attending Giants baseball team games, excursions to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, visits to the Mexican Museum and have attended numerous other cultural events.

Vega says that the Leaders have two more events scheduled this school year. At the end of May, the Young Leaders and their families will attend a free banquet in recognition of their participation in the program, at which time the scholarships will be awarded. The young people are looking forward to the banquet for one additional reason this year, they will have a DJ and a dance following the banquet.

The Young Latino leaders have demonstrated not only to young people but to larger community, that “Sí Se Puede” if given a chance to participate and learn. © La Oferta Newspaper.