When thinking of the roles of a youth coordinator, you may resort to a very 2D and often limited set of responsibilities. You may think of a person who occasionally organizes after-school programs or a tutor in your local middle school. At Centro Hispano, this position has a completely different story.

Through a range of youth programs like Schools of Hope, Juventud, Escalera, ComVida, and Nuestras Voces, Centro Hispano works to prepare youth for a brighter future. As diverse as their programs are, their coordinators are equally diverse in terms of backgrounds and experiences.

Nancy Gomez, a UW-Madison and AmeriCorps graduate, is one of the Juventud coordinators at Sennett Middle School and was drawn to the program due to its involvement in the Latino community as well as its dedication to youth programming. Luis Lucas, an Escalera coordinator at East High School, has worked with college students and taught high school students and joined the team because of the impact he wanted to make on kids who need positive role models. Jessica Canela, co-director of youth programs and director of the ComVida Program, saw Centro Hispano as an organization that embodied the type of work she saw herself doing for the rest of her life. Margaret Chumely, an Escalera coordinator at West High School, is starting her third year and came to Centro Hispano to work with kids in more avenues than just academic. Carly Meyer, is a Juventud coordiantor at Wright Middle School and a former Peace Corps volunteer who came to Centro Hispano just a few weeks ago and saw similarities at Centro with organizations both local and abroad.

Gilma Arenas a Juventud coordinator at Sherman Middle School and a former teacher who taught for 22 years, has been working at Centro for 12 years and loves working with families and children. Lisette Serrano, a Juventud coordinator at Toki Middle School, is a graduate with a degree in Rehab Psychology. She joined the team because of previous positive experiences working with Centro as an undergrad. Lauren Deakman, director of youthprograms, worked with Centro for 10 years in multiple positions and saw Centro Hispano as an organization that brought together her passion for Spanish and working with youth. Each of the staff members had different experiences, yet all had the excitement when talking about their work at Centro.

Centro Hispano provides a range of different youth programs that target different age groups and demographics and play an important part in helping the Latino youth of our city. Juventud, the largest program, serves middle school students that are often fall through the cracks of attention from teachers. These students behave in class and often coast by but are not given the attention needed in order to become college ready. The goal of the program is to provide opportunities from academic tutors and career workshops to field trips and activities that revolve around Latino culture.

Centro Hispano youth coordinators take a more "relaxed" picture.
Centro Hispano youth coordinators take a more “relaxed” picture.

The Escalera Program serves high schoolers on different levels. The freshmen and sophomore students get academic tutoring from staff. Once they hit 11th grade, the students receive curriculum that is provided from the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national Hispanic civil rights advocacy organizations in the United States. Through support, attention, and cultural sensitivity, this program provides students with a foot through the door in their junior year. The internship program, which provided 25 kids with 80-hour internships, pairs students with Latino supervisors and mentors in order to provide role models that the students can identify with. The main goal of this program is to show students that they are capable of getting a higher education and a career post graduation.

The ComVida Program, which started in 2007, began as a joint effort between the Madison Police Department and Centro Hispano in response to the high gang violence rate. Without any resources in the city to address the issues for the Latino community, ComVida flourished as a bridge and a liaison. As Canela explained, the program looks at the behavioral issues as symptoms of larger problems. These larger problems are tackled through case management, family counseling, etc. In addition to ComVida, Nuestras Voces and Luchamos serve as support groups for girls and boys to air out frustrations and talk about aspirations and goals in safe setting. This program takes a proactive approach and allows for the larger issues to be handled before the symptoms turn to behavioral issues.

Centro’s multifaceted youth programs tackle many of the problems these students face. The youth coordinators stressed that microaggressions in school settings are very prominent. From examples of teachers not condoning offensive remarks or behaviors to students being discouraged from speaking in Spanish, many kids end up feeling more comfortable in Centro Hispano’s settings. As the coordinators explained, students end up speaking in Spanish because of the sole reason that they are not discouraged to at Centro. The youth coordinators not only tackle problems that the students face, but the families as well.

Centro Hispano addresses the gap in providing services for Latino families by becoming a liaison between students, teachers, school staff, and families. While face-to-face communication is extremely important for members in the Latino community, the school system often resorts to a very systematic approach that includes more emails, phone calls, etc. The coordinators often serve as a liaison to mediate this gap in communication. As one coordinator explained, families have a wave of relief when they see the welcoming faces of Centro Hispano staff at the confusing maze that is school registration. This bridge saves families time and stress that often comes from navigating the faceless information they receive, while at the same time empowering parents who weren’t able to navigate the system before. For any non-profit entering the vast system of public schools, it can be difficult to add to the network and resources that schools already have. For Centro, these coordinators bring to the table an extra set of hands that can provide support to students and families while at the same time providing knowledge of Spanish and cultural competency.

The depth of work these coordinators tackle is unimaginable. The youth coordinators wear multiple hats due to the nature of the job. By providing emotional, academic, and psychological help, youth coordinators become teachers, counselors, friends, social workers, and much more to these students. Having to wear many hats forces the coordinators to think quickly when addressing issues and when it is appropriate to refer the family or student to someone else for help. In addition, the coordinators need to be quick to integrate into the school system in order to help their students and families integrate as well. With limited resources in terms of funds, transportation, and space and a growing community to serve, the coordinators work miracles for the students they serve.

Each of the coordinators I met had so much energy and passion when it came to describing the work they do. When describing why they love their job, one coordinator told a story about a mother who brought all of her children to registration day (from an infant to a high school graduate). The mother pointed to her youngest kids and told them that the coordinator will be working with them just like she did with their eldest siblings. This trust and comfort in the youth coordinators showcases the bond these individuals create with students and families and the dedication they have for their jobs. While speaking with the coordinators, it was very apparent from their energy and passion that this was more than just a job. These individuals are not just community organizers but local superheroes for many students and families across the city of Madison.