Ten Year Celebration Only The Beginning For Latino Success In Kentucky
Published in: La Voz de Ky Bilingual Newspaper
In the summer of 2006, Liliana came to Bluegrass Community and Technical College to participate in a program that would teach her about higher education opportunities.
Going to college may seem like a regular milestone in the life of a high school student. But one that for Gomez seemed impossible at one point.
She was one of 14 students who attended the first ever Latino Leadership and College Experience a decade ago. Fast forward to now, she is one of the directors of the very camp she attended as a high school student.
She is now pursuing her master’s at Eastern Kentucky University, where she also works as Latino recruitment specialist.
“With the knowledge I received at LLCEC, now I can help other Latino students,” she said.
At LLCEC she learned she could attend college, ways to pay for it and how to get through the process.
Gomez is the ultimate example of what LLCEC is about. It’s meant to educate Latino students in Kentucky about higher education, empower them through Latino history and culture, and connect them to resources to achieve success.
Among Latinos ages 25 to 64 in Kentucky, only 17 percent have an associate’s degree or higher. A number, LLCEC aims to increase.
Under the leadership of Erin Howard, director of Latino outreach at BCTC who created LLCEC in 2006, the camp continues to grow and improve. In its 10th year, it hosted 65 high school students from more than 15 high schools across the state, who are housed in dorms for the week, attend classes during the day taught by volunteer professors and professionals, and in the evenings participate in leadership building and cultural activities.
This year, about 25 facilitators and another 20 support staff members kept things running behinds the scenes. Everyone participating is a volunteer.
“Thats’s what is amazing about this camp,” Gomez said. “We are willing to give back.”
Lluvia Portillo is one volunteer who kept coming back after attending as a student in 2010.
“You feel accepted and people understand you,” she said. “Because they care. Back in high school, I really didn’t have this information and didn’t feel this support.”
Irene Alcaraz first attended as a facilitator in 2014.
“I was astounded by the level of commitment,” she said. “Anytime something needed to be done, there was always more than one volunteer. The campers see that and I think we do a good job of leading by example.”
She heard about camp from her brother who was involved in prior years and from other young Latinos.
“It’s a big deal in the community,” she said.
And Gomez wants it to be bigger and impact more youth.
“We want the community to own this camp,” she said. “It can really change your life if you let the information, the people and the overall message change it for you.”