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History of the Latin American Youth Center


With overwhelming support from community youth, volunteers and parents, the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) incorporated in 1974 as a multicultural youth and family development center in the District of Columbia serving Latino youth, while serving as a bridge to the wider youth community. Prior to 1974, the LAYC had been providing educational and vocational summer and after-school activities which were housed in several locations in the community.

The incorporation as a not-for-profit youth center signald the board of directors and the community's intention to insure that the young immigrants in the neighborhood had a place "to call home."

In the early years, 1974-1979, the LAYC had little public or private support, but had dedicated volunteers, board of directors and youth leaders committed to its success. In the late 1970's and the early years of the new decade, the LAYC began to receive city funds to support its youth efforts.

Responding to the ever changing needs of the youth and families in the community, the LAYC grows as it begins to support the array of educational, vocational and support services needed by youth and their families in the community. The Center grows from a small volunteer focused effort, to a year-round multi-service center.


In 1993, LAYC purchases its first major asset - 3043 15th Street, the building next door to the main site. As a result of the growing numbers of Latino youth in the District of Columbia, there was an urgent need to provide housing for homeless young men too young to live on their own, but too old for the foster care system. The LAYC received a federal “transitional living program” grant to move these young people from homelessness to independence. The LAYC utilized this building to support the housing needs of young people until 2002 when a major flood occurred causing the LAYC to close the site. The building was renovated in May 2007 as a state-of-the-art residential facility for homeless young women in our community.

In 1995, LAYC received its first U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Grant for its YouthBuild program. A U.S. Department of Labor program, YouthBuild is an award winning youth development model where low-income young people ages 16 to 24 work full-time for 6 to 24 months toward their GEDs or high school diplomas while learning job skills by building affordable housing in their communities. Additional program space was located and LAYC recruited its first YouthBuild group of students.

In 1995, LAYC begins planning for a move to a new site, purchasing an abandoned apartment building for future renovation.

By 1997, the federal government enacted legislation in the District of Columbia to begin charter schools to the District of Columbia. LAYC submitted a charter application to transform the LAYC’s teen parent educational program into a public charter school. The LAYC’s charter application was one of the first five charter applications to be approved by the city’s chartering authority, the Board of Education. The LAYC’s charter, was the first charter designed by a Latino organization in the city.


The Next Step Public Charter School opened its door in 1998 in the LAYC’s new facility with 24 students. Today the Next Step has 72 students including recently arrived students of the District of Columbia, teen parents, and youth who were not having their needs met in the regular public school system. The Next Step is accredited with the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools since 2004.

In 1998, LAYC celebrated the opening of its new facility. Purchased in 1995, LAYC realized that a new state-of-the-art facility was needed to keep up with all of the robust and vibrant programmatic activity at the Center. After completing a three year capital campaign, LAYC relocated to its new headquarters celebrating a huge accomplishment for the entire community. The Next Step Public Charter School opened its doors at the same time, located in the second floor of the building.

The success of the Center’s programs continues to grow and the new site provides an anchor in the community for hundreds of youth and families participating in LAYC programs and activities.

In 1999, the LAYC purchases three new buildings in our community, including the Center’s old headquarters from 1974-1998. With this purchase, the Center now owned four old run down properties, two of which were major nuisance properties utilized for drugs and vagrancy. The first renovation, the new transitional living program for homeless boys, was completed in 2000. Today, this house is licensed as a community based residential facility for 12 homeless boys.

The LAYC participates in a training program sponsored by Community Wealth Ventures to support non-profits interested in owning and operating businesses. While pursuing several ideas, LAYC begins planning to own and operate a Ben & Jerry’s PartnerShop.

In 2001, LAYC raises initial revenue from private funders and the Local Initiative Support Corporation to start a new Ben & Jerry’s PartnerShop at the Eastern Market. After incorporating the Creative Enterprises non-profit, owned by the LAYC, the shop opens its doors in 2001. In its first year of operation, over 28 youth are employed while LAYC actively develops its capacity in the area of social enterprise.

As part of the citywide Youth Opportunities (Y0) program, sponsored by the D.C. Department of Employment Services, LAYC expands its programs to its new YO site. In collaboration with Peake Developers, LAYC renovates a store-front and basement in a newly renovated apartment building located next door to the Center’s main site. The YO program site serves as a “one-stop” for out-of-school youth in need of educational, recreational, social and employment opportunities. Since opening, over 400 youth have participated in YO programs.

LAYC receives the prestigious Annie E. Casey Families Count Award highlighting outstanding programs that strengthen families by connecting them to the opportunities, services and relationships that will help them achieve their goals.


The LAYC staff submit a new charter application for the Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School (LAMB). The school, designed as a basic Montessori model with a dual language immersion (Spanish/English) overlay will be the first of its kind in the District of Columbia. It offers opportunities for parents to receive quality dual language learning early childhood education.

In 2003, LAMB opens with its first class of 60 three and four year old students in a faith based facility in the District of Columbia. While operating out of a temporary site for two years, LAMB begins the planning for the renovation of its new building in northwest D.C. in 2005.

LAYC begins renovation of the art and media house, a new unique social enterprise for the arts in the District of Columbia. The LAYC receives a strategic investment from Venture Philanthropy Partners, for an intensive strategic planning process completed in 2004.

In 2004, LAYC’s social entrepreneur activities expand into two new social enterprises. The first social enterprise is the Center’s second Ben & Jerry’s PartnerShop, which opens in partnership with the newly renovated Avalon Theatre in Chevy Chase, D.C. Combined with the Eastern Market Ben & Jerry’s, the LAYC can now offer self-sustaining and supportive employment opportunities to 70 youth.

The second social enterprise is the Art & Media House, which will serve as a multicultural space where youth can express themselves and develop communication skills through photography, video production, radio, creative writing and fine arts. The new site houses a gallery space, photography studio, media studio, and fine arts studio.

Utilizing the Monitor Institute, The Finance Project and Policy Studies Associates, LAYC completes its strategic five year plan and begins implementing plans for future growth in the District of Columbia and the region, while insuring the highest quality outcomes for youth and families in all of its programs. The strategic plan identifies the specific desired outcomes associated with success and describes the Center’s “social change” model that has been working to support youth and families for three decades.


In early 2005, LAYC builds out its Board of Directors, adding ten new members and tapping a wealth of community, public policy, non-profit and political expertise and experience.

In the summer of 2005, LAYC expands its operations into Maryland, opening offices and offering programming in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. LAYC’s Maryland operations – called the Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers (MMYC) - will replicate the comprehensive and successful youth development model LAYC has pioneered in the District of Columbia for more than 30 years. To kick off its Maryland programming, LAYC offers a summer arts, media and school beautification camp for 116 sixth-ninth grade students at Nicholas Orem Middle School in Hyattsville, MD in partnership with the Democracy Collaborative of the University of Maryland and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington.

Also in summer 2005, LAYC pilots the first Evening Reporting Center (ERC) in the District of Columbia, providing an alternative to juvenile jail. First developed in Chicago, the ERC is intended to reduce the risk of re-offending for juveniles while they await court proceedings. Staff supervise youth from 3:00 – 9:00 pm six days a week and ensure that participants attend court appearances on time. While they wait for their trial, youth who participate in the ERC are able to stay in school and receive counseling, homework assistance and other services after school.

YouthBuild Public Charter School opens its door in September 2005. Extending LAYC’s successful YouthBuild program, the new charter school combines academics with construction training and leadership development to prepare students for college or the workplace. Fifty-five students are in the first class.

In January 2006, U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski announces, at a press conference at LAYC’s Silver Spring office, that the Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers will receive $750,000 in federal funding to help combat gang problems in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

Jessica Yepez, a senior foster care social worker at the Latin American Youth Center, is honored as the Social Worker of the Year by the Consortium for Child Welfare. The award, recognizing Ms. Yepez’s outstanding, compassionate, empowering and highly effective work with children and families in the foster care system, is announced on July 11th at CCW’s Awards Luncheon.

Also in July 2006, LAYC's Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers (MMYC) expands its footprint in Prince George's county, launching the Center for Educational Partnership, in partnership with the University of Maryland. At the new facility in Riverdale, youth and families will be able to take advantage of programs that include job training and placement; computer training; case management and counseling; GED instruction; arts activities; after-school programs for youth; summer educational camps; life skills training; gang prevention; early-intervention activities; and recreational programs. University of Maryland President C. D. Mote, Jr., LAYC President & CEO Lori Kaplan and Maryland State Senator Paul Pinsky, who was instrumental in securing bond funding to renovate the former elementary school, outline plans for the new center at a July ribbon-cutting attended by community leaders, elected officials and young people.

Data from the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), covering the first half of 2006, show that LAYC’s Evening Reporting Center (ERC), which provides young people awaiting trial with an alternative to juvenile detention, is achieving a very low rate of recidivism among participants in the program.

LAYC’s ERC program served 72 young people from January – June of 2006. While participating in the 30-45 day program, just four percent were re-arrested and only one percent failed to show up at their court appearance, according to the DYRS data. There were no negative outcomes for 95%. LAYC’s rate of re-arrest for the January-June 2006 period is the lowest achieved by any of the alternative detention programs being offered in DC through DYRS.

On November 15th, Mayor Anthony A. Williams announces at the Latin American Youth Center that a new report has found that the comprehensive approach to reducing Latino gang violence in the District of Columbia's Columbia Heights/Shaw neighborhoods, initiated in August 2003 in response to a series of gang-related homicides between 1999-2003, has dramatically reduced Latino gang-related violence in DC and led to a drop in the number of young people who are becoming gang members.

LAYC has been a key community partner in the Gang Intervention Partnership, and LAYC President & CEO Lori Kaplan joins Mayor Williams, Police Chief Charles Ramsey, Councilmember Jim Graham and Office on Latino Affairs Director Gustavo Velasquez at the press conference unveiling the report. Commissioned by the Mayor's Office on Latino Affairs (OLA), the report used quantitative and qualitative research, including analysis of crime rate data, focus groups and interviews with more than 40 young people and adults, to independently evaluate the effectiveness of the Gang Intervention Partnership (GIP) in its first three years of operation.