Students talk about how UnidosUS’s Escalera program has changed their lives

Beyond helping kids get ready for college and future careers, the UnidosUS Escalera program is about community, friendship, and support. Here are a few stories from students who have participated in this life-changing program.

UnidosUS Escalera

By Stephanie Presch, Content Specialist, UnidosUS

In 2001, UnidosUS (then the National Council of La Raza), created the Escalera Program: Taking Steps to Success. Through the Escalera program, high school juniors and seniors learn about the often-daunting college application process, and engage with events and activities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Escalera students are usually Latino, first generation, and from traditionally marginalized communities. The program helps these students connect with a familia of peers from similar backgrounds.

To date, Escalera has served more than 1,700 young people across 37 Affiliates in 18 states. The Escalera program is funded by UPS.

Here are a few stories from students who have participated in the program. Their words show that Escalera is all about community, friendship, and support.

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Breaking the colonial shackles

How an UnidosUS Líderes Con Alas fellow found a life mission in dark times

Matt Hinojosa | Lideres con Alas | UnidosUS | latino youth leaders

Matt Hinojosa Photo: Lupito’s Photography

By John Marth, Senior Content Specialist

Most people try to hide from the San Antonio sun, but Matt Hinojosa found something special in the scorching heat.

“I could feel myself getting close to this transcendental force just by being outside and working on the land,” he says. He was doing landscaping full-time and found a few hidden benefits no one told him about. “I could drink all day,” he says, “just detoxing and sweating in the sun.”

“It felt good, but at the same time, that was when I was deepest in my addiction.”

He was taking a few semesters off from college to save for tuition and a car, and to pay off fines from drug and alcohol charges.

Matt had been drinking and using drugs since he was a teenager, and it was affecting every part of his life. By the time he started landscaping, he’d dropped out of two different colleges, been arrested, and was losing hope.

“I was in a really dark place in my life. I didn’t have much to be proud of.”

Not long after, another semester in college would put him in touch with his Chicanx history and get him sober. All of these things—addiction, recovery, connection to something larger—would lead Matt to his life’s work.

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Finding the power of family at home and in the classroom

Sonia Gonzalez—a participant of UnidosUS’s Escalera and Líderes Avanzando programs—credits her East LA upbringing and her family’s perseverance and compassion for guiding her path to college and beyond

At center: Sonia Gonzalez and; UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía pose with guests at our 2017 Annual Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. <em>Photo: Sonia Gonzalez</em>

Sonia Gonzalez Photo: Sonia Gonzalez

By Jennifer Wennig for UnidosUS

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor has said, “Remember that no one succeeds alone. Never walk alone in your future paths.” This is a sentiment that captures the experiences of another strong Latina named Sonia.

Growing up in East LA, Sonia Gonzalez was determined to pursue higher education as early as in elementary school. Planning to go to college was not an “option” but a “requirement” in Sonia’s mind.

It was an ambition rooted in the lessons given by her family, who have provided lifelong examples of perseverance and service.

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CASA at Monseñor Oscar Romero Charter School

 By Jennifer Archer, CASA Instructor, Monseñor Oscar Romero Charter School

The Monseñor Oscar Romero Charter School (MORCS) family kicked off our work with CASA with a trip to the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition (GWHFC). Students in the Youth Advisory Board were discussing the lack of services for homeless people in Los Angeles, and wanted to see what they could do to help.


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Showcasing the 2016 NCLR Innovation Lab

How NCLR STEM Is Creating Innovative Spaces for Latino Youth

By Cindy Zavala, NCLR Education Programs Associate


The Innovation Lab student groups at the 2016 NCLR Líderes Summit Bienvenida

Last month in Orlando, NCLR STEM held the Innovation Lab Showcase during this year’s NCLR Líderes Summit. The NCLR Innovation Lab is a program that inspires social entrepreneurship by encouraging students to tackle some of the most pressing needs in their communities. Finalists presented their innovation and product they designed to meet a need in their community. The student finalists were from four NCLR Affiliates: Conexión Américas, Mujeres Latinas en Acción, Gads Hill Center, and Sociedad Latina.

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Highlights: NCLR’s First Annual College Summit

On March 19, we held our first-ever College Summit for members of the Líderes Avanzando program, which builds relationships between Latino students and universities in order to close the education gap still felt by many in our community.

Thank you to St. Mary’s University for hosting our College Summit in San Antonio,Texas! Líderes Avanzando attendees…

Posted by NCLR Líderes on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Summit also emphasized the importance of young Latinos becoming active in the democratic process by registering to vote, helping their friends and families register, and, most importantly, voting on Election Day. NCLR held a panel discussion in partnership with Univision to discuss the Latino vote and how it can affect the presidential election this November.

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NCLR AmeriCorps Expands Its Reach

Americorps1The 11 NCLR LENS AltaMed AmeriCorps members: Back row – Lluvia Macias, Jocelyn Martinez, Jessica Ponce, Francesca Corley, Roxana Barba; Middle Row – Allen Marshall, America Torres, Ernesto Vicencio, Jennifer Ng, Helen Chag; Front – Rafael Marron

NCLR has been operating and overseeing AmeriCorps programs since 1995. As a longstanding grantee of the Corporation for National and Community Services (CNCS), NCLR has promoted national service across the country and to a demographic that may not be familiar with service options.

Americorps2Rafael Marron calling out volunteers

Last month NCLR AmeriCorps members throughout the nation participated in the Martin Luther King Day of Service. This is NCLR’s 21st year of promoting service activities around the holiday by making it a day on, not off.

AltaMed NCLR Lens AmeriCorps members joined efforts with other AmeriCorps cohorts including AltaMed and Community Clinic of the County of Los Angeles Community HealthCorps members for their MLK Day of Service at Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles. The AmeriCorps member activities included college readiness, a health fair, and beautification of the Roosevelt High School campus. There were more than 100 volunteers in attendance.

Americorps3NCLR LENS Group Booth

AmeriCorps engages more than 75,000 Americans in intensive service each year at nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community- and faith-based groups across the country. In exchange for that service AmeriCorps members can earn an education award that can be used to cover past, present, and future education expenses. Rogelio Quintanar and Veronica Alarcon oversee the implementation of the program. Both NCLR staff members have more than 20 years of experience managing and promoting AmeriCorps and national service. Quintanar has been with NCLR and the AmeriCorps program since 2002 and Alarcon joined the program in 2006.

Americorps4NCLR LENS Group Booth

In managing the program both staff members provide financial oversight and ensure program policy and procedures are compliant with CNCS regulations and provisions. Additionally, they are responsible for promoting the program on a national scale and developing partnerships that will advance the mission of the program.

As the NCLR-AmeriCorps relationship continues to grow, more youth leaders are participating in community service activities. In a few weeks, NCLR AmeriCorps members will be back in their communities participating in more services projects as AmeriCorps Week approaches, which is March 5–12, 2016.

NCLR AmeriCorps Calendar for 2016:

  • March 5–12, 2016 | AmeriCorps Week
  • April 12–18, 2016 | National Volunteer Week
  • April 2016 (date TBD) | National and Global Youth Service Day
  • May 2, 2015 | Join Hands Day
  • September 11, 2016 | 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance

Six Young Women Help Launch NCLR “Entre Mujeres” Program

the girls

Entre Mujeres Youth Representatives (left to right): Mary Elena Gonzalez, Roxana Vado, Yadira Dominguez, Estefania Martinez, Aniessa Marie Hermosillo and Marie Barake

Empowering young Latinas is a priority for NCLR. This month, NCLR Lideres kicked off our effort to do this with the Entre Mujeres program.

NCLR Affiliates who are subgrantees of the program gathered in Dallas to launch the new gender-based program for high school girls.

The following Affiliates will be working with NCLR to carry out the goals of Entre Mujeres: Con Mi Madre of Austin, Texas; Hispanic Women’s Corporation of Phoenix; Mujeres Latinas En Acción of Chicago; New Economics for Women of Los Angeles; Sociedad Latina of Roxbury, Massachusetts; and the Mexican American Council of Homestead, Florida.

(Left to Right) Veronica Alarcon, the Entre Mujeres Program Manager, (center) along with the Entre Mujeres educators: Maritza Rocha, Priscilla Maldonado, Alexis Ariana Hermosillo, Marisa Solorzano, Tiara Cobb, and Marilu Villa

(Left to Right) Veronica Alarcon, the Entre Mujeres Program Manager, (center) along with the Entre Mujeres educators: Maritza Rocha, Priscilla Maldonado, Alexis Ariana Hermosillo, Marisa Solorzano, Tiara Cobb, and Marilu Villa

Each Affiliate had the opportunity to send one female student representative and one female chaperone to the Entre Mujeres kickoff. The six girls and educators were trained in the program’s curriculum, sometimes together and other times they were split up into separate groups.

Veronica Alarcon, the Entre Mujeres Program Manager, led the workshops with the female educators.

“The mission of Entre Mujeres is to empower Latina high school students to recognize their personal worth and strengthen their leadership abilities, self-confidence, and leverage their cultural assets to serve as agents of change in the Latino community and beyond,” said Alarcon.

NCLR will be providing these educators ongoing technical assistance, opportunities for professional development, and access to relevant positive femininity curricula as they implement the Entre Mujeres program in their schools and organization. Each educator will be responsible of guiding a cohort of 10–15 young women.

“I am really happy that I came to the Entre Mujeres training. I feel so reenergized to continue the amazing work we have started here for young women,” said Priscilla Maldonado, Program Coordinator at Con Mi Madre. “Coming here, I saw how much of an impact this made to my student, who accompanied me to this kickoff, and also for myself.”

Angela Vivar Romero leading the Entre Mujeres Circle

Angela Vivar Romero leading the Entre Mujeres Circle

The most important part of the Entre Mujeres kickoff were the activities the young girls had to participate in, which modeled the curriculum they will be participating in throughout the year. These activities included group discussions in circles, writing reflections in their journals, sharing their personal struggles as females, and creating a safe space for young women to share their obstacles both at school and at home.

Former Miss Oklahoma Latina Angela Vivar Romero was the special guest invited to facilitate the group discussions and model the Entre Mujeres group circles, which is part of the curriculum. Romero served on the NCLR Líderes Youth Summit staff from 2009–2013. Not only has Romero been very involved with the NCLR Líderes programming, she also manages the Diversity Academic Support Department at Oklahoma State University.

These discussions left many of the girls moved. They opened up to one another and even participated in an activity where they highlighted the qualities of an ideal boyfriend and healthy relationships. By the end of the event, each girl had the skills to help other young women in their cohort back home manage these discussions along with their educators.

Yadira Dominguez, youth representative for Con Mi Madre

Yadira Dominguez, youth representative for Con Mi Madre

“I’m leaving this event with many friends. I really bonded with the other five girls. We talked about our personal issues and really grew together in these past few days,” said Yadira Dominguez, youth representative for Con Mi Madre. “We plan to stay in contact throughout this program and I am really happy about that.”