Dear LAYC friends,
I am delighted to address our community for the first time as president & CEO of Latin American Youth Center (LAYC), a position which I am extremely proud to hold and will assume with the utmost responsibility and dedication. I owe a huge thank you to our board of directors, committed staff, and Lori Kaplan for being helpful and supportive during this transition.
While I am new to the position of CEO, I have been employed at LAYC for 20 years. It has been an incredible journey, where I first participated as a youth, a 14-year-old in the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). I came back to LAYC in my junior year of college to serve as an intern, and finally, I returned to run SYEP right after college. I have been at LAYC ever since, growing and learning how to best serve our youth through different programming and services.
As I reflect on my work at LAYC, there have been two questions that have always driven my work: First, how do we create and build on opportunities for our young people? Second, how do we meet them where they are? We serve over 4,000 youth and families annually, and they each have a story and journey as I did. Providing LAYC youth with positive experiences and opportunities and creating a safe space for them to learn about themselves and grow are what make all the difference. Through this approach to serving youth, I have witnessed first-hand the transformation of youth who had no hope into optimistic young people who are able to make a successful transition to adulthood.
At the heart of LAYC’s incredible work is the staff, who are a driving force and are willing to go the extra mile for each and every youth. This was demonstrated recently by two inspiring stories:
At the age of 18, José* had learned to put the needs of his family above himself and was not going to participate in his high school prom because, as a key income provider at home, his family could not afford for him to miss work. When LAYC/MMYC staff learned of his situation they jumped right in and partnered with another organization, Once Upon a Gown, to help raise $2,000 to cover his prom expenses, household expenses, as well as fees to attend a community college course. José was able to attend prom and has since graduated from Charles Flower High School. He will be participating in our workforce internship program in Prince George’s County this summer. Maria, 17 years old, had to learn to be independent at a young age and eventually became homeless. Nevertheless, she never stopped working and attending school. She received support from our DC Host Homes and Transitional Living Program staff, who connected her to housing and resources. Maria graduated from Cardozo High School and received two scholarships totaling over $13,000, which will cover her college expenses.
Both stories are examples of young people who, with support and guidance from LAYC’s dedicated staff, are able to prosper and achieve higher and higher goals. Their stories also speak to the importance of fostering hope through our work. Moreover, these stories contradict the increasingly negative narratives and stereotypes that surround the youth with whom we work.
I am honored to be able to continue to build upon LAYC’s great legacy, working alongside our board members, stellar staff, and community partners and pursuing our mission. With the many challenges that LAYC youth face, I am dedicated to working to ensure that our young people receive the services and support they deserve. I hope I can count on you to help us support our youth in achieving their goals. Together, we can uplift these young people, regardless of their circumstances.
President & CEO
*All names have been changed for privacy.