By: Marlana Edwards, Contributing Reporter
The Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) is a hidden gem in heart of Washington, D.C. that provides under-served youth with workforce development, mental health and educational programs in addition to free food, safe housing and legal consultation for undocumented youth.
In light of President Donald Trump’s efforts to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the LAYC organized legal clinics, know-your- rights trainings, cultural events, and rallies in order to protect the recipients of DACA, known dreamers, in Washington, D.C. The center also raised money to establish the DREAMER Fund to help youth apply for DACA applications and other immigration process fees.
In 1968, The Latin American Youth Center was founded in Washington D.C by a group of dedicated volunteers. The program’s website explains that their mission is to provide Latin American youth with a successful transition to adulthood. Today, the youth center offers skill development, bilingual enrichment, workforce readiness, and drug intervention programs to at risk Latin and Black Youth. The center also provides services to over 4,000 young adults in the D.C metropolitan area annually.
Some of the center’s most popular programs are the Latin American Youth Enrichment Program and the Wise Program, both located in Columbia Heights.
Four annual reports showed that 427 students received an average of 52 hours of homework assistance. Several of the young adults that the LAYC serves come from unstable households. One of the LAYC’s greatest success stories belongs to 22-year- old Gustavo Mura. This year, the center featured Gustavo on their website because of how the LAYC has helped to change the course of his life.
In 2012, Gustavo came to the United States to escape an abusive household in Guatemala. When Gustavo arrived in the United States, he moved in with his brother.
Gustavo intended to go to school, but Gustavo’s brother demanded that he start working immediately in order to help out financially.
Gustavo managed to go to school during the week, and to work during the weekends to help his brother. The Latin American Youth Center helped Gustavo to plan a career path to becoming a teacher. Gustavo works with the center to raise awareness about mental illness within the Latino community.
The center’s Youth Enrichment sector is dedicated to educating Black and Latino youth about mental illness. The Center for Advancing Health conducted a study that implied that mental illnesses, though prominent in Black and Latino communities, often go overlooked because of cultural stigmas. The enrichment sector works to address mental illnesses and their symptoms in addition to domestic abuse.
The center also provides housing for youngadults who are subject to homelessness or domestic abuse in the household. Based on the centers 2015 annual report, 110 youth were housed directly at one of the center’s facilities or connected families. The center also offers counseling services for youth with self-esteem and confidence issues. The Youth Enrichment Program often refers young adults to the Latin American Youth Center Career Academy.
The career academy helps to provide under-served youth with GED preparation, medical training and educational course credits that can be transferred to Trinity Washington University or The University of the District of Columbia (UDC). LAYC’s 2014 Annual report showed that roughly 244 youth participate in the center’s GED class, annually. McQueen, (who did not feel comfortable releasing her last name due to her legal status) a volunteer at the LAYC Career Academy explained that at the Career Academy assists its clients in preparing for the work world.
“We also provide skill development and trade development. We have CPR certification classes, and we help our youth to get jobs, trades, and education. We offer specific electives that can be transferred to UDC and Trinity. Right now we have an art elective.A lot of the students are really excited about that,” McQueen said.
Tatyana Brown, one of the center’s administrators, said that the career academy works closely center’s WISE program. The WISE Program is a workforce investment program. The program helps to prep young adults, ages 16 to 24 for the workforce,” Brown said, “we help with resume building, GED preparation, and interview training. We help the youth to figure out a career path, and then we try to pair them with suitable employers.” Brown is the outreach specialist for the workforce development program.
The workforce development program assists primarily Black and Latino Youth in career planning, skill development, and networking. In 2014, the Latin American Youth Center’s workforce investment programs engaged over 350 youth.