Pictures of a discarded juice bottle on the ground; a broken window in need of repair and what appeared to be an abandoned community center covered with plywood and graffiti were some of the stark images on display at the (HRC) that illustrated pertinent social justice issues through the eyes of students.
As part of their involvement in the Con Edison-funded Youth Leadership/Civics Education program at the HRC, (MHS) students were asked to think critically about issues affecting the Hispanic community while learning about history specific to their countries of origin. The program—which began in October 2011—ran in 8-10 week cycles, with three groups of 15 kids each participating. Students are referred to the program from the school district and Program Alignment Team for Hispanic Students (PATH) Committee. The PATH Committee—comprised of school staff—comes up with new programs to engage Hispanic students and their parents in the education process.
In addition to the photos, students also worked on two public service announcements addressing the issues of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act—federal legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants who complete a two-year college or military program to apply for citizenship—and the disproportionately large high school drop out rate among Hispanics.
But Leadership Facilitator William Orellana was more poignant in his description of what he hoped students would get out of the program.
“How do we tap into the soul? How do we transform the spirit,” he said.
“Having our young people become critical thinkers and ask why….what is unfair in my life? Who am I as an agent for social change in the community,” he asked rhetorically to illustrate some of the topics discussed in the course.
Gaby Vasquez, a MHS junior who participated in the program, said she now had a more holistic view of the Hispanic community in Mamaroneck and the many cultures that comprise it thanks to her involvement in Youth Leadership.
“I learned more about other [Hispanic] cultures, the problems we struggle with and how we fight for our rights...it’s a place to help the community as a whole,” she said.
Wendy Maldonado, a MHS junior, spoke highly of the support services at MHS, saying that they “help you get the extra help you need.” Additionally, she said that bilingual social workers were imperative to helping to communicate school issues to her mother, a non-native English speaker.
Additional services provided by the HRC include language development in English and Spanish that is recognized by the Mexican consulate; computer literacy and hands-on vocational training in construction, domestic and restaurant skills. The HRC also works in conjunction with the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) of New York to teach skills like edible arrangements, basic cooking and how to be a barista.
And one well-known service the HRC provides is its worker center, with nearly 4,000 participants utilizing the site every year to try and find day and seasonal work. Although many workers still utilize the street corner right near the center to be picked up for daily jobs, said HRC Director Zoe Colon, the center emphasizes training programs so that workers can eventually find steady employment.
Funding for the center comes from a combination of foundation/individual donations and grants, said Colon.
As parents, friends and community leaders congratulated the graduates of the program, it was clear that a shared sense of accomplishment was felt by all.