When the LAUP (Latin Americans United for Progress) youth program took its initial steps, it stood as a small yet vibrant initiative. In its early days, between 20 to 30 students, all distinguished leaders within their schools and the community, actively participated. They were passionate about college readiness and generously devoted their time to volunteer for the program’s cause.
In 2021 the Nueva Era of LAUP began. President & CEO Johnny Rodriguez was among one of the first hires during this time. Baruch de Carvalho and Brenda Ballesteros were later hired to form the small, yet mighty, team. This era is marked by the fierce desire to live out LAUP’s mission and serve the community in the ways families needed. At the end of 2022 the organization invested in Julian Lugo, director of Youth Programs and Advancement. When Lugo first started, the youth programs were modest in size. The 2022 ¡Adelante! cohort consisted of 15 students and 15 ¡Más Adelante! for a total of 30 students. At this time, the program primarily focused on college readiness and volunteer opportunities.
Vision For the Future
Since its inception the transformation of LAUP’s youth programming is both evident and remarkable. Within the last two years the program has witnessed substantial growth and enhancement, catalyzing positive changes in the lives of many young individuals in our community. The director of Youth Programs and Advancement, Julian Lugo, was asked about his future goals for the youth programs. He envisions LAUP youth programming growing in size and experiencing a rise in remarkable achievements. In the forthcoming years, the aim is to witness a substantial expansion of the program’s reach, ensuring it serves more school districts, counties, and K-12 schools. The goal is to also continue to foster and support the EL learners, immigrants, and undocumented youth in the programs.
Over the past year LAUP has worked with curriculum developer and fellow Latina, Jennifer VanHekken, with her help LAUP has created a robust curriculum that will be given college credit in the coming years.
LAUP youth programs have grown a total of 300% in the past two years. As of 2023, the ¡Adelante! cohort consists of 82 students and the ¡Más Adelante!cohort has 35 students for a grand total of 117 students actively enrolled. This impeccable growth has been led by Lugo. The evolution of our program stands as a testament to our commitment to adaptability and growth. LAUP’s youth program has a revamped curriculum tailored to meet the needs of our youth, workforce, and post-secondary partners. The organization has taken significant strides to ensure the curriculum contains relevant, high quality material, activities, and opportunities.
Over the past years various changes have been made in order to keep up with the growth. LAUP has now built on site visits which have removed transportation barriers by sending instructors to schools. By removing transportation barriers it has made a big difference giving Latinx more access to programs. Expanding their reach, they’ve established two additional sites at West Ottawa High School and Grand Haven High School, hosting the after-school program on Monday through Thursday, shortly after school hours, catering to the diverse schedules of students from 2:50 to 5:00 pm (timing varies by site). Moreover, their dedication to inclusivity and cultural resonance is reflected in their recent recruitment of two new youth program instructors, Vanessa Soriano and Marlen Barrios. These professionals, being bicultural, bilingual, and BIPOC/Latinx, enrich the program’s fabric with their diverse perspectives and expertise.
In essence, the envisioned growth isn’t just about numbers; it’s about fostering an inclusive, empowering, and enriching environment for youths from all walks of life. Through strategic initiatives and concerted efforts, the program aims to create an ecosystem where every participant feels valued, supported, and equipped with the tools needed for success. It’s crucial to recognize that investing in the educational growth and empowerment of our ¡Adelante! and ¡Más Adelante! Youth isn’t just an investment in individuals—it’s an investment in the entire community. When donating to LAUP or sponsored events, your donation actively supports the Latino community in Holland and throughout West Michigan. By nurturing the talents and potential of BIPOC, Hispanic/Latinx, students of color, and welcoming diversity across all backgrounds, we are sowing the seeds for a well-rounded, vibrant future. This dedication to our young generation creates the path toward a society that is stronger, more equitable, and inclusive, enabling everyone to actively contribute and flourish. As an organization, we firmly believe it is our joint duty to invest in these emerging minds, securing a brighter and fairer future for everyone.