OST Voices Episode #7: Latin American Youth Center
Lupi Quinteros-Grady, President and CEO of LAYC
Throughout 2020 and in the first months of 2021, we at Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) have often said that we are doing “the same work in a different way.” For more than 50 years, LAYC has proudly stood beside youth as they pursue their goals, providing them with multicultural, comprehensive, and innovative programs that address their personal, academic, and professional needs. So, at the onset of COVID-19, our objective was to find new methods to reach youth and families most impacted by the pandemic, particularly within communities of color, with the comprehensive care LAYC has always provided.
Within our slate of out-of-school time (OST) programs -- which includes an array of academic, arts, health, and recreational programming -- we adapted all activities to operate virtually and remotely, ensuring uninterrupted access to services even while youth remained sheltered at home. We also recognized the urgent need to respond to students’ basic needs. In partnership with LAYC’s more than 45 programs and services, our OST staff mobilized to connect youth to additional COVID-19 supports, including LAYC’s new crisis management services that provide monthly food delivery, rental assistance, and online mental health support. Because many of our youth struggled to overcome the digital divide, OST staff delivered laptops and Internet hotspots so students could fully participate in distance learning.
Prior to the pandemic, we provided OST programs both onsite at LAYC’s Kaplan Building in Columbia Heights and through school-based partnerships with DC and Maryland public schools. Our daily school-based OST services seamlessly pivoted to virtual formats and continued their work to keep youth on track with homework, grades, and personal goals in partnership with DC and Maryland distance-learning arrangements. Transitioning to the virtual format actually increased participation in some of our programs, since youth living further away from our sites no longer struggled to coordinate transportation from school or home.
Alex, a junior at Friendship Public Charter School in DC, participated in LAYC’s Kaplan-based OST programs for the first time this school year. She is passionate about social issues and raising the voices of those who are not being heard. In Fall 2020, Alex joined STRIPES, LAYC’s OST LGBTQ+ and ally leadership enrichment program.
“One thing we talked about was intersectionality, or how the combinations of factors, such as race, age, gender, sexuality, and nationality can impact our identity,” Alex said. “We also talked about what makes a good leader and what kinds of people we saw as leaders. We discussed politics, such as immigration, prison systems, reparations for slavery, and racism within the economy. We were able to have good discussions with different points of views.”
While in STRIPES, Alex collaborated with LAYC’s other OST Kaplan programs, including arts and media programs and W-LAYC radio, LAYC’s monthly youth podcast. Through these cross-programmatic connections, Alex helped create a zine called “Resilience & Balance,” as well as a manifesto on the components of an ideal country.
Beyond her engagement in enrichment programs, Alex also connected with LAYC’s OST academic support. After telling our enrichment staff that she was nervous about taking the math section of the SAT, LAYC connected Alex with a tutor. She and the tutor now meet twice weekly, and Alex is looking forward to attending college after graduation from high school.
Another major focus area for LAYC in the past year has been youth mental and emotional wellness. As the pandemic wore on, many of our youth expressed increased feelings of anxiety, isolation, and helplessness as they were forced to remain quarantined away from peers and loved ones. Many also described increased feelings of disconnection with their schools’ remote-learning classes, attributed to difficulty of online schedules, computer or internet challenges, and trouble balancing academic and familial responsibilities. Some of our youth had to share a computer with a younger sibling or skip school to care for sick family members.
LAYC incorporated these experiences directly into our OST program design, prioritizing community building in all our programs and ensuring youth could cultivate meaningful, trusting relationships with other youth and LAYC staff. Our OST enrichment programs that are traditionally based on site at LAYC’s Kaplan Building have continued to meet virtually every week, fostering creative outlets and opportunities to nurture peer relationships that are so crucial for our youth during stressful times.
LAYC is acutely aware of the lasting disparities this health crisis has wrought; 47% of our youth are Latino and 42% are Black, and these communities have been hit hardest by COVID-19. While our communities continue to be deeply impacted by the ongoing public health crisis, racial injustice, and political violence, our youth and their families have been resilient and connected to the support offered by LAYC staff. We have begun planning long-term strategies to address the even greater disparities that our youth will likely face as we come out of this pandemic. As always, LAYC will lead by listening to the feedback, insight, and concerns of those we serve, overcoming every new challenge as a united community.