In celebration of our 45-year history, LAYC recently had a wonderful GALA birthday party. We honored six of our alumni. With this blog piece, I am introducing them to you.

LAYC’s vision is a future where all youth pursue their dreams, reach their goals, and acquire the skills and self-confidence to live a life of purpose, connection, contribution, and joy.

Over our 45-year history, over 75,000 young people have walked through our doors and brought this vision to life. With this blog piece, I would like to introduce you to six alumni who are day-to-day proof that LAYC’s vision is alive and thriving.

As a young person at LAYC in the 80’s, Yanira Cruz, originally from El Salvador, participated in leadership, after-school, and summer programs. Today she is Dr. Yanira Cruz, President & CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging. She is a leader in health policy for older adults with a special focus on the Latino elderly.

I first met Enrique “Quique” Aviles when he was a 15-year-old newcomer from El Salvador. A participant in the 80’s and 90’s, Quique brought to LAYC his special skills as an artist, poet, and community activist, founding LATINEGRO, the first bilingual youth theatre group in Washington, DC. Quique continues his commitment to young people as coordinator of Nuevo Paso, a bilingual youth theatre group at GALA Theatre. And if I remember correctly, he met his wife at LAYC too!

Mike Fields grew up in DC and Prince George’s County. In 2009, he applied and was selected to serve as one of our AmeriCorps members, helping young students at McFarland Middle School. Mike’s relentless commitment to young people and dynamic personality has made him a “big brother” to many. Today, he serves as YMCA after-school coordinator.

A young immigrant from Guatemala, Claudia Luna came to LAYC in the 80’s. She participated in many of LAYC’s leadership, summer, after-school, and theatre programs. When two LAYC staff people, Diane Cottman and Cristina Encinas founded LAMB, the Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School in 2001, they recruited Claudia to be on their initial staff team. She continues to work at LAMB, as a Spanish language Montessori teacher.

Jackie Reyes, originally from El Salvador, first came to the LAYC when she was 15 years old. She participated in many of our programs and the LAYC continues to be her touchstone. She is a tireless and true activist and community organizer, serving as an outreach staff coordinator for Councilman Jim Graham. You will find Jackie organizing park clean-ups, outreaching to the Metropolitan police, in the halls of city council and embassies, and at voter registration events. And that could be all in one day!

Last but never least, Ernest Yombo, from the Central African Republic, started coming to LAYC in the early 80’s. Although French was his first language, he fit right in, undaunted that most people were speaking were Spanish. Ernest grew up at LAYC, as the majority of his family lived in a very far-away land. He participated in many LAYC programs and developed lifelong relationships including one with his wife, who he met at the LAYC. Ernest went on to get his BA and MA degrees, and today serves as Vice Principal at Bruce Monroe Elementary School in Washington, DC.

With pride I say: I think LAYC has the best alumni in town! LAYC served as an important anchor in their lives, a place for them to grow and thrive. For many, LAYC fused giving back to community into the fabric of their being. I wish I could introduce you to each and every one of them, but for this blog piece, here are these special six.

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