Latino Community: Revealing hidden treasure

When we think about the inner city or communities with predominantly Latino or African-American populations, it may, for some, bring to mind poverty and crime. Many underserved communities are plagued with a higher incidence of violence, underperforming schools and inadequate infrastructure. But despite lacking everything from libraries with computer access to public transportation and even crosswalks near schools, amazing potential lies hidden within.

After serving just such an economically challenged community for the last eight years through the nonprofit LaunchPad the Center for Hope and Empowerment (LP), I see clearly the incredible promise our minority youth holds.

Through our team’s work at LP, I’ve also witnessed how those who take the time to invest in the lives of young students as volunteers, mentors and tutors become inspired by these students’ spirit and resilience.

The Latino community has so many “diamonds in the rough!” Now, I am no gemologist or pipe-miner. However, I do know that carving a precious stone requires time, care and effort.

Like an uncut stone, the unearthed treasure in many of our communities is still coarse. To many, it is unimpressive. But just like that rough stone — after a gemologist polishes, shapes and facets it to reveal its beauty — at-risk youth, too, can shine with the help of community volunteers.

When time, care and effort are invested in them, and the bar is raised, students respond with untold brilliance.

When goals and expectations are set for under-performing schools, with small wins and tough love, these “diamonds in the rough” begin to take shape as potential future leaders among their peers and within their family structures.

Lorena C., one of my dedicated LP students for three years, is among these once-rough diamonds shining brightly today. Lorena has been raised in a single-parent home with her younger brother. The family has never owned a car, and the mom doesn’t know how to drive, so the family spends countless hours a week using public transportation. Basic errands like grocery shopping and medical and dental appointments are always more precarious during inclement weather, but there are no other options.

Lorena is determined; she doesn’t allow life’s minor inconveniences to distract her from reaching her education goals. She graduated in the top 10 percent of her class last May, and has begun her first year at Texas State University, just 40 minutes from her home. She is a first-generation high school graduate, and the first in her family to attend college.

Lorena’s success story is just one of hundreds stemming from the LP mentorship program.

It is so inspiring to witness such amazing transformations — to see young students like Lorena work hard despite the obstacles and challenges they face. And there is no greater satisfaction than to watch students like her find success in college and beyond.

That is our primary focus at LP — to enrich the quality of life for disadvantaged youth and underserved families, who in turn help to build safer, more productive and vital communities. Through training, tutoring and mentoring, we create leaders where leadership previously was lacking.

The door to vast opportunities is wide open for students like Lorena. Their discipline and sacrifice culminates in a self-sustaining lifestyle, empowering upward mobility not only for them, but also for their families and communities — helping all to shine as brilliantly as the rare gems that they are.

David Contreras is the president of LaunchPad The Center for Hope and Empowerment. He and his wife, Rebecca, founded the nonprofit in spring 2008. He recently joined Think Freely Latino’s Advisory Board. Previously, David was Texas director for the Council on Faith in Action (CONFIA). He also was deputy director of the President’s Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and external affairs coordinator for the Office of Communication and Public Liaison at the U.S. Small Business Administration under President George W. Bush.

To learn more about LaunchPad the Center for Hope, visit launchpadthecenter.org.

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