Latino institute emphasizes leadership, action and education

LYNNWOOD — The Latino Educational Training Institute’s programs are focused on empowerment through education.

Rosario Reyes, president of the Lynnwood nonprofit, said the group works largely with Latino business owners and students. The organization is run by volunteers except for one part-time paid administrative assistant funded by United Way.

The institute has started three new programs or events during the past two years. One is geared toward networking for business owners and two are focused on education for Latino youth.

On the business end of things, the first Latino Expo took place at Edmonds Community College on Aug. 9, featuring music, art, dance and business showcases.

The event started as a fair for Latino-owned microbusinesses in 1987, Reyes said. A recent partnership with United Way and the Mexican Consulate allowed them to expand the fair and create a more extensive local expo.

“It embodies everything,” Reyes said. “Family, business, health.”

Along with helping current and future business owners, the Latino Educational Training Institute aims to up high school graduation rates and make college possible for Latino youth.

Two years ago, the organization started a Latino Leadership Initiative, which provides scholarships and mentoring to community college students in Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties. In return, the students complete community service projects of their own geared toward helping students in middle school and high school.

In 2013, the program helped 16 people graduate from college. This year, 20 graduated, Reyes said.

Students can be recommended for the program while attending Everett Community College, Edmonds Community College, Skagit Valley College, Whatcom Community College or Bellingham Technical College. They participate in a four-month service project, get hands-on mentoring and compete for additional scholarships to continue their education.

Karla Rios Salcedo and Jacqueline Gonzalez are two of the students who graduated with the leadership initiative’s first group.

Salcedo, 20, graduated from Everett Community College and is heading to Washington State University to study political science. She hopes to one day be a lawyer and start her own nonprofit organization focused on education and student issues in the state’s Latino community.

Salcedo said she worked with mentors once a month who helped with her studies and career goals. Wanting to pay it forward, she and other students in the Latino Leadership Initiative began volunteering with middle school girls in Everett who were getting in trouble at school. After the girls moved on to high school, Salcedo taught them how to be mentors for a new group of at-risk middle-schoolers.

The goal is to create a “cascade,” essentially a continuous cycle of service and education, she said.

“At first, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” she said. “I would do it all over again if I could.”

Gonzalez, 21, is studying psychology at the University of Washington after graduating from Edmonds Community College. She heard about the Latino Leadership Initiative during her first year of college.

“Back then, I didn’t really have any leadership experience, so I was looking for something like this,” she said.

Gonzalez, like Salcedo, worked on a mentorship program for middle-schoolers. She volunteered in Edmonds rather than Everett.

“We kind of thought if we started with younger kids to talk about college and leadership opportunities, maybe they would take advantage of opportunities in high school,” Gonzalez said.

The guidance is something most students don’t have in middle and high school, she said.

“Mentoring really made me step up and be a leader,” she said.

Gonzalez eventually hopes to be a professor at a university. She’d also like to be a state leader, maybe a senator or representative, someday. The leadership initiative inspired her to consider becoming a politician.

“It got me thinking that if there are these social issues happening in the world, no one is going to fix them if we don’t take the action,” she said.

Taking action is at the heart of the Latino Educational Training Institute’s mission, Reyes said.

“Our motto is action,” she said. “Whatever you’re going to do, do it now. Tomorrow is way too late.”

The organization has also started a GED program for Spanish-speaking adults looking to complete a high school education.

“We’re hoping that by getting more youth involved in the civic engagement part, we can impact the dropout rate we’re seeing in our community,” Reyes said.

A 2012 report to the state Legislature estimated a 21 percent dropout rate for Latino students between ninth and 12th grades, compared to a 14 percent overall dropout rate statewide.

The GED classes started around the same time as the leadership initiative. The organization graduated 25 students the first year and 55 students this year, Reyes said.

There’s now a waiting list to participate, she said. Four of the students from this year’s GED program have registered at Edmonds Community College to continue their education. Reyes expects more students to become interested in higher education as the program continues and financing options become clearer.

Salcedo said the Latino Educational Training Institute opened her eyes to the importance of education for the state’s Latino population. People need to be informed in order to create change in the world, she said.

“I feel like we need to start with our community first,” she said. “How else are we going to go on to do bigger things?”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

How to help

The Latino Educational Training Institute is supported through donations and sponsorships. To donate, go to www.letiwa.org/contribute. To sponsor, go to www.letiwa.org/sponsorship.

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