Housed within the Latin American Association (LAA)’s Youth Department, the Latino Youth Leadership Academy is an after-school program initiative passionate about equipping the next generation of Latino youth with the right tools for them to succeed both academically and personally.
Raquel Machuca, Youth Program Manager, explains that during the LYLA sessions, they do their best to focus on mental health. Apart from mental health being traditionally a stigma in the Latino community, therapy is also unaffordable and unobtainable for some of the students in the program due to their legal status and them not having access to proper health care. She sees that as kids want to show off as resilient and perseverant, they don’t ask for help.
LYLA looks to be that place. A safe place for the next generation of Latinos to open up and ask questions to individuals that can guide them on their future plans.
For students like Dayanara, Naomi, Bryan and Lydia, LYLA has been that place. When talking to Dayanara and Lydia at Cross Keys High School, they expressed that the LYLA staff “know how life can be. Our life is very different from kids that live down the street. They are the ones who actually understand what it’s like and can give us the right guidance.”
Bryan’s older brother never enrolled in LYLA and although he could have enrolled at some of the best schools in Georgia, he decided to take another route. Bryan says that his older brother is very smart and agile, but he didn’t have anyone to push him. He says, “LYLA is the reason why I am being pushed.” And now that he is off to college, he wants to give back and become a social worker. Although he wishes there was no one in a similar situation as his family, he understands that there will always be someone who needs to be pushed. He wants to be the one pushing people, he wants to give back to his community.
For Luis Andino, the Managing Director of Youth Services, managing this program hits close to home and helping these kids is full circle.
He says, “We’ve had the opportunity and the honor really, to constantly fill them up with positivity, with knowledge, things that we didn’t know or may have known or we learned the hard way or we learned too late because we’re all first-gen and we all struggled in our own way that we’re able to go ahead and give it back.”
LYLA’s success isn’t a lone effort…the LYLA staff also work closely with student leaders composed of our high school students who facilitate conversations and topic acquisition. Another key part of the program is the parents. Luis personally thanks the kids’ parents regularly, and thanks them for trusting the LAA for so many years.
The LAA currently works with Meadow Creek High School, Chamblee High School, Cross Keys High School, Lilburn Middle School, and Sequoyah Middle School. If you are a schoolteacher or a member of a school district and would like to work with us, please contact Luis Andino at LAndino@thelaa.org.