Carmen Bonilla with her Peer Educator of the Year Award at LAYC.
by Lily Gage, Teen Health Promoters Assistant Coordinator
"Oh no, you didn't!" Carmen said to me when the Department of Health's speaker announced that she had been nominated and selected as Peer Educator of the Year. I told her, "no, I didn't do anything. It was all you!" Carmen's face flushed as she cautiously approached the front of the auditorium to receive her award, but underneath her blush, she was glowing. But this was not the first time Carmen had been called up to the podium at the Youth Sexual Health Awareness Celebration sponsored by HAHSTA (HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Administration), a branch of DC's Department of Health.
Carmen and two other Teen Health Promoters students, Tatyana Russell and Kendall White, submitted a video for HAHSTA's "Check Your Risk" Video Contest to encourage STI testing. Their video, "Scared and Unprepared: What You Should Know About STIs" addressed misconceptions about prevention, transmission, and treatment of STI's and was awarded first place in this competition!
Not only did each student win a shiny Visa gift card, they also earned the opportunity to work with HAHSTA to develop the official video for the DC school-based STI screening program. This program brings STI screening to high schools in DC and now it will also bring Kendall, Tatyana, and Carmen's bright faces and wise words! In addition, another THP student, Pedro Ramirez, is joining the video team to act out STI prevention with gusto! The students will have the opportunity to write the script, offer filming and editing suggestions, and act. This video will be shown in every school-based STI-screening presentation in The District!
When the students met with HAHSTA representatives last week to discuss the video, it was so obvious how much these students had learned through their work as peer educators.
"We should show a couple talking about having safe sex."
"Definitely! Make sure that they talk about using condoms."
"And don't forget to say that students can get tested for free!"
Making this video is indicative of a year of hard work by all the Teen Health Promoters to not only learn about sexual wellness and other health topics, but to conquer an even more daunting skill, how to teach their peers. As Carmen accepted her second award of the evening, I beamed, knowing how hard she had worked to earn the title, "Peer Educator of the Year." I had watched Carmen ask questions every THP class, always engaged and interested in whatever we were learning. Then, this spring, I watched her facilitate three workshops on sexual health at Anacostia High School for the students there. I felt like a proud Mama watching my students get recognized and knowing that they deserved it. My students were thrilled to win gift cards, but I know that the knowledge and confidence they have gained this year is worth so much more.
When you walk into the offices of the Crystal Insurance Agency in Adams-Morgan, the first creature you encounter is not a person. It's a small white poodle named Chispa.
"Chispa" means "sparky" in Spanish, and there's no doubt that Crystal's Chispa lives up to her name. She sniffs. She scours. She prowls around as if she owns the place. She growls if anyone approaches the CEO, Margarita Dilone, in the wrong way.
"Chispa is the conscience of this place," says Dilone, who founded the agency 31 years ago. But Dilone has become, in many ways, the conscience of the neighborhood.
Hers was the first Spanish-speaking bilingual insurance agency in the District of Columbia, Maryland or Virginia. Under her leadership—some might call it sparky leadership—the company has grown to 4,500 clients, seven employees and $4 million in sales last year. By any measure, Margarita Dilone, who grew up in nearby Mount Pleasant, is a notable success story.
But she feels that her success is only as good as the success of her neighbors. That's why she has been a regular annual donor to the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC).
"One of the things I'm passionate about is educating our youth," she says. "The only key to economic empowerment is education. LAYC, without a doubt, has embodied that."
Dilone, who has four children and will soon welcome her sixth grandchild, is especially attracted to LAYC's emphasis on family. Many recent arrivals in Adams-Morgan and Mount Pleasant are children who come without their parents or parents who come without their children. "It can take a good five or ten years for these families to come back together," Dilone says. "A lot of these kids feel abandoned. They hear the siren call of gangs. That's why we need LAYC—to have another gang, so to speak."
For Margarita Dilone, burrowing into the daily life of the community began at an early age. Her parents owned and operated Casa Dilone, a food store that was located on Mount Pleasant Street NW. At the age of four, Margarita was propped on a stool, working the cash register. She never considered living or working in any other neighborhood.
Mount Pleasant and Adams-Morgan have changed greatly since the 1960s, Dilone points out. Residents of Hispanic descent now hail from many different countries rather than just a handful, and both neighborhoods are now more multi-ethnic than ever. "That's why LAYC's approach—to serve all ethnic groups—is so good and so necessary," she says.
Margarita Dilone is especially positive about LAYC's realistic programming. "They never claim that anything is easy," she says. LAYC emphasizes "persistence. If you get knocked down, dust yourself off and get right up. That's right for every child.
"Intervention is where it's at," says Dilone. "These children need mentors at that critical time. LAYC fills that gap for them. That's why they get my support."
LAYC honored the founders and leadership of TheDream.US, a national college access fund for immigrant youth. Pictured are Don Graham, Amanda Bennett, Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, and Program Director Gaby Pacheco with LAYC President and CEO Lori Kaplan and LAYC participants.
The Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) welcomed over 500 friends and supporters at its annual Gala on Wednesday, May 4, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. The theme of Gala 2016 was Today's Dreamers, Tomorrow's Leaders. The event featured exciting silent and live auctions; a VIP reception hosted by lead sponsor Capital One; and an inspiring program featuring LAYC youth, including a performance by Ma. Teresa Ebarita who wowed the crowd with her rendition of "The Climb". Erika Gonzalez, reporter and anchor for NBC4, returned to emcee the evening's program.
The theme Today's Dreamers, Tomorrow's Leaders celebrated the resilience and perseverance of young people who come to the U.S. as children and don't have immigration status that allows them to pursue their dream of going to college. The Gala also honored the leaders in education who lift them up. Gala 2016's honorees were the founders and leadership of TheDream.US Donald Graham, Amanda Bennett, Henry Muñoz, Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Candy Marshall, and Gaby Pacheco.
"As founders of TheDream.US, Donald Graham, Amanda Bennett, Henry Muñoz, and Secretary Carlos Gutierrez heard the DREAMers' call and created a scholarship fund for DREAMer youth. They have raised millions of dollars for DREAMers to pursue their educational goals," said Lori Kaplan, LAYC President and CEO. "As the President of TheDream.US, Candy Marshall's extraordinary leadership will ensure TheDream.US will thrive for years to come. Gaby Pacheco is a leader in the DREAMer movement, having walked from Florida to Washington, DC, to call attention to this issue. Gaby continues to fight for DREAMers at TheDream.US. We were proud to honor all of them at Gala 2016."
"The Latin American Youth Center is the gold standard of DC nonprofits and Lori Kaplan is, simply, the best. To be their guest is such a joy," said Donald Graham, founder of TheDream.US.
"TheDream.US is proud that we help amazing DREAMer students pursue higher education, and we hope to serve many more."
"When I was 18, it was people and organizations like Lori and LAYC that helped me unlock the doors of opportunity," said Gaby Pacheco, TheDream.US Program Director. "Today, I stand on the shoulders of those who believed in me just as LAYC youth stand on the shoulders of their LAYC mentors."
Special guests included Capital One Treasurer Tom Feil, Capital One Vice President and LAYC Board Vice Chair Simon Fairclough, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield President and CEO Chet Burrell, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, and DC Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1).
Gala 2016 celebrated 48 years of service to the community. Each year, LAYC supports about 4,000 youth and families in the District of Columbia, and in Maryland's Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. Since 1968, LAYC has served over 70,000 youth and families.
Proceeds from Gala 2016 will support LAYC's operations at each of its sites.
Created in 2008 by the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC), the Promotor Pathway® has successfully identified and served approximately 450 young people in the Washington area who were facing unusually steep barriers to success. Initial partnerships have been established with organizations in Salem, Oregon and Orange County, California, and fundraising and planning are now under way to extend the program to other areas around the country.
The Promotor Pathway® targets some of our nation's most vulnerable youth, those with significant challenges such as homelessness, lack of education, or court involvement with limited access to opportunities and support. LAYC's approach is to "cultivate a lasting and trusting connection to a caring adult," said Susana Martinez, the National Director, at an announcement of the program's expansion on April 20. Each Promotor is specially trained, and each participant is drawn from among existing participants in LAYC programs, as well as out in the community and in area high schools. Promotor participants have usually not completed high school, often engage in risky behaviors, often lack access to healthy food and stable housing, and may have been impacted by violence or crime. Promotores work closely with these youth to promote connections to services that can provide a successful transition to adulthood. In 2010, the Latin American Youth Center became a sub recipient of the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) program through youthCONNECT, an initiative of Venture Philanthropy Partners. With the support of this investment, the Urban Institute recently concluded an extensive study of Promotor Pathway®. At the April 20 meeting, Brett Theodos, a senior researcher at the Institute, reported that after participating in the program, Promotor participants are...
30% more likely to be in school than those not in the program
30% less likely to have born or fathered a child in the previous year
60% less likely to have slept in a shelter in the previous six months
Multi-service programs often provide challenges to evaluators looking to gather detailed data, but as stated by Theodos, "The fact that the program is achieving the impacts that it is are all the more impressive given the variety of things that are being worked on." Overall, the Promotor Pathway® is an example of "what works" for our communities. The moderator of the panel discussion, Michael Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director of Cabinet Affairs for My Brother's Keeper, shared, "If we are going to make a real impact in communities, we need to invest where there is evidence of impact." He then praised LAYC and the Promotor Pathway® for "always looking out for the kid first."
A youth participant, 21-year-old Daniel Salgado, told the April 20 audience how the Promotor Pathway® worked for him. This previously out-of-school teen dad obtained his GED, is now employed as a result of the program, and is not "sleeping on the floor for the first time in five years" because his Promotor helped him get a bed. Salgado praised his Promotor, Jorge Orozco, for being "like a big brother to me. He has followed me through and been there with every struggle and achievement."
As the program expands nationally, LAYC is "seeking true partnerships where we share a vision of positive youth development," said Susana Martinez. The Promotor Pathway® National Network seeks community-based organizations serving disconnected and high-risk populations of youth to obtain full training and materials necessary to implement the Promotor Pathway® in their communities. LAYC believes that sharing best practices and replicating a model with strong evidence of success can benefit the lives of youth across the country.
"We're not about LAYC telling Orange County or Salem, Oregon how to serve their youth. They know how to serve their youth. Maybe we can help them do it better," she said.
Testifying: Ana Hageage, Director of External Partnerships, Latin American Youth Center
RE: OSSE Budget Oversight Hearing
Good morning council members, council staff, and Committee Chair Grosso. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Ana Hageage and I am the Director of External Partnerships for the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) in Columbia Heights. LAYC is a long-standing multi-service youth organization with deep ties to immigrant and minority communities in the District. My testimony today is intended to share some budget requests that would increase the efficacy of our work, as well as suggest changes for the coming fiscal year that would benefit youth that are the direct recipients of these grants.
LAYC currently receives $950,000 in OSSE grants and has been able to provide 900 youth with the following services:
LAYC Community Schools, serving over 500 disconnected youth enrolled in Youthbuild PCS, Next Step PCS, The LAYC Career Academy, and LAYC's WISE Program
Cardozo Community Schools, serving over 125 high-risk youth enrolled in Cardozo's education Campus
After School Programs for 100 TANF recipients at Cardozo, Powell, and Raymond Elementary and Middle Schools
21st Century Learning serving 110 High school students at Cardozo and Roosevelt High School through academic, STEM, and enrichment activities
Physical Activity for 100 youth at Roosevelt and Wilson High schools
Sexual Wellness Advocacy Training program (SWAT), by providing funds for STI, STD and pregnancy testing to 300 youth
First, we would like to thank the Mayor for continued funding for existing Community Schools programs in FY17 and commend the council for their allocation of resources to develop an evaluation tool. As well, we are grateful for OSSE's leadership in establishing a city-wide Advisory Council who will assist grantees with some common challenges.
In order to build on this momentum, we would also like to request that the council fund the following:
At least one FTE staff person at the Mayor's office dedicated to Community Schools Oversight
Funds for technical assistance for Community Schools grantees
Increased funding for rigorous and timely evaluation
Second, LAYC like other non-profits, are heavily reliant on these grant funds to operate on a day to day basis. We provide the most valuable services but current grant payment structures necessitate that we pay for expenditures up front, sometimes having to absorb costs that are denied by OSSE. With grants from OSSE totaling close to a million dollars, this makes it difficult to operate.
We recommend that OSSE provide a portion of administrative funds up front so that LAYC and similar organizations can, at minimum, pay for the staff that operate these programs. As well, we recommend that OSSE expand the breadth of allowable expenditures to cover items such as food for youth that are necessary for robust programming.
And lastly we would second DC-AYA's recommendation that OSSE invest an additional $950,000, via an expansion of the kids ride free program, to support transportation to and from programming for youth ages 21-24.
We greatly appreciate the opportunities that OSSE affords our youth and we know that the council values the work that LAYC does with youth in the District. Thank you for listening to my testimony and please feel free to contact me with further questions at
Director, External Partnerships & Community Schools
Latin American Youth Center