NASHVILLE, TN — The YMCA Latino Achievers Program has reached a major milestone this month and is celebrating 20 years of leading college and career readiness curriculum and culturally-responsive teaching. Latino Achievers empowers and inspires Latinx students to discover their strengths, shape their futures, and transform the world. YLA seeks to close the opportunity gap for Latinx and immigrant-identifying students by using evidence-based practices to increase college application, enrollment rates and positive identity.
During August and leading into Hispanic Heritage Month, at the beginning of September, the Y will celebrate the success of the Latino Achievers Program through its social platforms, through video tributes, and other recognition activities and events.
Karina Gutierrez-Molina, YMCA Achievers Pathway Navigator, has been with program since high school. Now, she helps students find their path to success.
“I think about the ways that I’m able to help these students and I see myself in them,” Gutierrez-Molina said. “They’re first-generation college students, going on the same path that I did, and I’m excited for them. I get so emotional thinking about the fact that they’re much more prepared.”
Latino Achievers increases exposure to higher education and alternative pathways through college tours, fairs and conversations with college admissions representatives and staff as well as providing introduction to diverse professions and professionals of color through “World of Work” tours where students can see their dreams achieved by people who share their backgrounds.
“The power of educational access and leadership building with Latino young people is powerful. It’s a way that this community can be heard through the voices of its young people,” said Andrea Flores, assistant professor at Brown University and YLA volunteer. “There have been so many wonderful outcomes from this program and I think expanding access to even more students would be remarkable.”
Juan Escamilla Vargas participated in Latino Achievers during his high school tenure and now remains a volunteer. He said that for some students, Latino Achievers “is one of their biggest motivators to keep going.”
“Latino Achievers has been around for 20 years and it’s made such an impact from what I’ve heard from other people and what I’ve experienced personally,” he said. “The most surface-level things give students something to add to their college resume and on a bigger and more impactful scale, it [YLA] can change the trajectory of someone’s life.”
Currently, the program works with nine Metro Nashville public high schools helping to prepare students for higher education through financial planning and submission of college applications. Over the years, more than 6,000 high school students have been served achieving a 100% graduation rate with more than $900,000 in scholarships awarded since the program’s inception.
Long-term corporate partners include Nissan, State Farm, RC Mathews, Transplant Management Associates. During the last two years, the program added Bank of America, Truist, and Alliance Bernstein to its partner list.
“I would love to see Latino Achievers expand and provide more scholarships for students. But being able to support and broaden that reach is only done through donors who believe in the mission,” said Jazmin Ramirez, volunteer and former student.
The YMCA of Middle Tennessee is the region’s leading nonprofit dedicated to strengthening community through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Inspired by its mission as a worldwide charitable fellowship united by a common loyalty to Jesus Christ for the purpose of helping people grow in spirit, mind and body, for more than 147 years, the YMCA of Middle Tennessee has been giving people of all ages the tools they need to belong and be well. Last year, the Y reached 171,485 people, improving the region’s health and well-being, nurturing the potential of children and teens and providing opportunities to serve others and support our neighbors.