On February 5th, Latin American Youth Center honored inspiring local heroes at our 9th annual Breakfast for Heroes, in Silver Spring, Maryland.

This  year, we had the pleasure of honoring three local heroes who are actively involved with LAYC’s Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers and our DC sites: The Honorable Craig Rice, Montgomery County Councilmember, The Honorable Karla Silvestre, Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education Member At-Large, and Jeannie Engel, Founder of Neighbors Rising.

Craig Rice was recognized for all the ways in which he shows up for youth in the community, and his endless words of encouragement and demonstration that all youth matter.

“What makes [Craig Rice] a hero to me is that he took time to learn more about me.” – Christian McCleary, LAYC Conservation Corps alumnus

“[Karla Silvestre] is somebody who is both mind and heart, analytical, and really passionate [in everything she does]…working hard to ensure that there is equity, that there is access, from early childhood development through adult learning.” – Jacob Newman, LAYC’s Managing Director in Montgomery County.

Jeannie Engel was recognized for mobilizing other compassionate neighbors and forming Neighbors Rising, a group that encourages individual support and community collaboration to support and advocate for vulnerable youth and families. Tatiana Sandoval, LAYC Community Schools Coordinator, thanked Neighbors Rising for

“creating a community where people of immigrant communities…and the children that we serve, can feel safe and know that [they] have people that support [them].” 

At the event, we heard from LAYC alumni Alex Palacios and Christian McCleary. Alex earned his GED and graduated from LAYC/MMYC’s Montgomery County Conservation Corps. The experience opened Alex’s eyes to environmental stewardship, and prepared him for life after the Corps through skill building, job readiness support, and employment connections. Alex’s GED completion opened the doors to a seasonal job at Casey Trees, and his strong work ethic enabled him to secure a full-time crew member position. He has now been employed with Casey Trees for two and a half years.

Alex Palacios speaks during Breakfast for Heroes Ceremony


“[LAYC/MMYC] staff made it so that it was ok for me to keep going with school and still care for my siblings. They kept believing in me when I started to doubt my own ability.” – Alex Palacios, LAYC/MMYC alumnus

Christian, another Conservation Corps graduate, now lives in Minnesota where he is a leader in his community. He traveled to be a part of the celebration to personally express his gratitude toward Councilmember Craig Rice for his genuine interest and encouragement along Christian’s journey, and his continued support for other youth like Christian. Christian shared, “I moved across the country and… no matter how far I [go, Craig Rice] still keeps in contact with me and offers words of encouragement and words of wisdom.”

Our honorees represent the best of our communities, adding value to LAYC’s work and helping to move our mission forward. They keep showing up for youth in our community by serving as youth advocates, providing encouragement and hope, and connecting youth to resources. Showing up truly makes a difference.

If you would like to join our Heroes Circle of monthly supporters, or learn about other opportunities to help LAYC youth, click on the links below or contact LAYC’s Development team at giving@layc-dc.org. You can also learn more about our work by signing up to receive our e-newsletter.

Join LAYC’s Heroes Circle

Other ways to support youth in your community

Pictured in feature photo from left to right: Maddy Goldberg, Neighbors Rising; Karla Silvestre, Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education Member; Craig Rice, Montgomery County Councilmember; Lupi Quinteros-Grady, LAYC President and CEO; Christian McCleary, LAYC/MMYC GED Graduate and Conservation Corps and AmeriCorps Alumnus; Gabriel Albornoz, Montgomery County Councilmember; Tom Hucker, Montgomery Council Vice President; Alex Palacios, LAYC/MMYC GED Graduate and Conservation Corps Alumnus

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