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Setting youth up for success.

Latin American Youth Center

Latin American Youth Center is committed to supporting multicultural youth through comprehensive services that focus on academics, arts and recreation, housing, health and wellness, and job readiness. Giant Food has supported this nonprofit organization through its Community Bag Program.

Tell us about Latin American Youth Center .

At Latin American Youth Center, our mission is to empower a diverse population of youth to achieve a successful transition into adulthood. We work with multicultural youth to provide comprehensive and innovative programs that address youth social, academic and career needs. We have been doing this since the late 1960s when there were not a lot of available programs for Latinos. We were stationed right in Columbia, and it started out as a place where young people could go to hang out and do something creative after school. The actual Latin American Youth Center did not get incorporated until 1972, which is when we really started growing. When I started 37 years ago, there were maybe five programs, and now there are over 40 programs. That tells you about the growth of the organization.

What services do you provide to the community?

We do a lot to make sure our young people stay healthy and are living a better life. To do this, Latin American Youth Center focuses on academics, arts and recreation, job readiness, housing, and health and wellness.

We have a program called the Promotor Pathway® which is a program that we developed and trademarked. We found that youth do better when you set them up with a caring adult who will support them in the long run. Sometimes we get court referrals, or we might get referrals from young people who have run away from home or been kicked out of their home. We also work with youth who might be at risk of suicidal thoughts. The Promotor Pathway® works with our most disconnected and disengaged youth and ensures someone will support them to make sure they get the services they need.

We provide comprehensive services, including housing, case management, food assistance, mental health, GED classes and afterschool programs and referrals to other services. Most importantly, that Promotor is checking in to ensure we can get the youth through school and even help them pursue higher education or a degree at a technical or trade school.

We also have an AmeriCorps Program for education and public health and River Corps and Conservation Corps for environmental issues. These are job readiness programs which help teach youth a lot of skills they will need in the workforce.

What sets Latin American Youth Center apart from other organizations in your community?

Even though our name is Latin American Youth Center, we welcome everybody that comes through our doors. We are not going to ask you where you are from, because we do not discriminate against anybody.

Even though our name is Latin American Youth Center, we welcome everybody that comes through our doors.

What sets us apart is that we are comprehensive and that when a youth walks through our doors they know we care. Youth cannot be fooled. We help everybody whatever their issue might be, and the fact that we meet youth where they are is what sets us apart. The basis of this approach is our Positive Youth Development model that we developed in-house to train our staff on how to work alongside youth and create safe spaces.

We help everybody whatever their issue might be, and the fact that we meet youth where they are is what sets us apart.

Tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.

There are so many stories I could share, but let’s share this one. When COVID hit, we were told on a Thursday not to come into work. By Friday, our President and CEO had us all on Zoom, something I had never heard of until then. Bottom line is, we did not close our doors. We closed the facility, but our work did not stop.

We got on the phone with our funders to tell them we still wanted to provide services to the youth. We told every social worker, case manager, or youth developer to reach out to their clients to ask what they needed. With school turning virtual, a lot of our clients did not have internet access or the computers they needed. We moved at full speed to raise funds to provide our youth with internet hotspots and laptops. As far as the PPE we needed, we moved into gear with that.

Most importantly, we did not stop serving throughout the whole pandemic. We worked even harder, and I am very proud of that.

People needed groceries, and so we partnered with local food organizations DC Central Kitchen and Capital Area Food Bank which delivered food at our site, and we worked with staff and volunteer to deliver it to the homes of our youth and families. We adapted our programming to continue it virtually. Most importantly, we did not stop serving throughout the whole pandemic. We worked even harder, and I am very proud of that.

What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?

Our biggest achievement has been expanding our services out into Maryland. We are proud that we have been able to stay open, keep providing services, and continue working on ourselves to make sure we improve our resources to support the youth and family needs. We have a data tracking system called Efforts to Outcomes (ETO) where we enter information on every client so we can evaluate the effectiveness of our programs. This system really set the bar for the nonprofit world in this community. People were not doing it until we started doing it. Of course, ETO is now big in other agencies, but we were the first ones to work with it.

What do you want people to know about the the Latin American Youth Center?

We are a regional nonprofit serving over 4,000 youth in Washington, DC, and Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties. We care about the youth we serve and setting them up for success. If you know of a young person that can benefit from our programs and services, please visit our website layc-dc.org.

How will you use funds you’ve received from the Giant Food Community Bag Program?

One out of every three people in the DC area suffers from food insecurity, making it one of our main focuses. We run a food distribution program for both Thanksgiving and the December holidays. Last year we spent over $25,000 on these programs. This year, the number of families needing these services has increased by 66%, now totaling around 1,800 families that we will help this holiday season.

Giant Food is giving LAYC this contribution, but we are giving it right back to Giant as we spend it directly on our youth and families to make sure they have food for the holidays. When Giant Food reached out to LAYC and Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School to do the Community Bag Program across all their stores, I was so happy. I was excited, but I really was not expecting $4,000.

To us, every penny makes a difference. Giant has been so generous, and they are even donating 250 turkeys to us. All this and the funds we raised will be used to fulfill these holiday food requests. What better use of these funds than to feed our families in need?

Is there anything you’d like to add?

We are so grateful for this Giant Food partnership. Giant’s motto is “Giant Cares.” This just shows they really do care. I personally shop at Giant because I like to support businesses that give to the community.  Latin American Youth Center and the Maryland Multicultural Youth Center are both extremely grateful to the Giant family for caring.

Millie Perez is Corporate Relations & Donor Events Manager of Latin American Youth Center.

Published December 6, 2023.