Finding Their Way
The Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project prepares Latino youth for governmental and civic leadership.

Article Access Magazine, Winter 2011 issue
State Capitol dome

High school can be a trying time for young people, even more so for students from underrepresented populations. For many, navigating a pathway toward success in a state as large as California can be daunting and frustrating.

For the last 28 years, a cadre of dedicated volunteers have helped guide Latino youth toward just such a path. Through the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project’s (CLYLP) Summer Leadership Conference, a week-long effort designed to prepare high-potential Latino high school students for positions in government and civic leadership, students learn not only how to succeed, but also how to make a positive difference in their communities.

A Long History

CLYLP launched its Summer Leadership Conference in 1982 and has brought together 120 high school students from across the state for the last 28 summers. More than 3,200 students have completed this program since its founding and more than 90 percent of those went on to attend college. CLYLP has expanded to include two regional institutes, the CLYLP San Joaquin Valley Leadership Institute and the CLYLP Los Angeles Institute, the Comcast Fellowship and the Roberto Gracia Memorial Scholarship program.

To apply to the CLYLP Summer Leadership Conference, students must be enrolled in 10th or 11th grade at a California high school at the start of the current academic school year. A scoring committee made up of 100-140 volunteers score the applicants based on their academic achievement as well as their leadership ability and potential. The highly-selective program averages more than 800 applications each year. Those accepted attend for free. CLYLP fundraisers, sponsorships and donations cover the students’ housing, meals, program materials and transportation.

During the week-long experience, participants set up residence in Sacramento State residence halls and attend workshops and seminars designed to enhance their leadership skills, academic preparedness, self-esteem and cultural awareness. A critical program component includes providing students with a solid understanding of state and local government. As part of that effort, students visit the state Capitol to learn firsthand about the legislative process through mock hearings and personal interaction with state legislators and legislative staff.’

CYLP group photo

“Our goal is to expose these students to a world outside their immediate communities,” says Norma Dominguez, president of the CLYLP board of directors. “They are California’s future leaders. We want to help them see themselves that way. We want them to understand that there is work beyond their immediate lives that they have an opportunity to address issues of equity, access, collaboration and community-based leadership. Through this program, we want to play a role in their leadership development .”

CLYLP Summer Leadership Conference attendees also receive valuable information about educational opportunities and professional careers during their stay at Sacramento State, including a college fair featuring top schools from around the country.

While the CLYLP board of directors oversees strategic planning, fundraising and overall program implementation, volunteers play a significant role handling all of the work and planning. In all, more than 200 volunteers contribute more than 25,000 total hours to achieve the program’s success.

In 2010, the Sacramento State College of Continuing Education (CCE) took on the role of liaison for all of the program’s campus aspects. While Garcia still serves as the official CLYLP host, CCE handled catering, logistics, meeting planning, and dorm lodging among other responsibilities.

“This is first year CCE is acting as a liaison for the campus in terms of logistical coordination on campus,” says Susan Gonzalez, senior director for CCE’s Conference and Training Services. “We coordinate conferences on a regular basis, so we have that expertise to add. We hope that through our involvement we can help make this incredible event run even more smoothly and seamlessly.

Image of Phil Garcia

“CLYLP is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for California’s Latino youth, many who come from low-income families and underrepresented communities, to participate in a leadership program. It’s a wonderful opportunity to expose them to a college campus and develop their leadership skills.”

— Phil Garcia, CLYLP Program Sponsor

A Bright Future

That Latinos won’t always be an underrepresented population is a guiding principle behind CLYLP. According to CLYLP statistics, Latinos will be California’s largest population group by 2025, and by 2040, half of all Californians will be Latino. Therefore, developing the next generation of Latino leaders is a critical investment in California’s future and beyond.

“I believe in the mission of the organization,” says Dominguez, who is not only president of the CLYLP board of directors, but also participated in the program as a student in 1996. “When I went through the program as a high school student, it definitely made an impact on me. It helped me understand the value of a college education, the significance of how important it is for Latinos to go to college and to give back to the community.”

Garcia says that for many students, the CLYLP program represents the first time they step out of their communities. “It is critical to provide a positive experience to them,” he says. “If we do it right, the program will provide motivation for these students to continue their education and to prosper in the community.”

For Dominguez, and many others, the program succeeded in doing just that. “It was clear to me that getting to go to the CLYLP Summer Leadership Conference and doing well there wasn’t an individual accomplishment,” she says. “It was also critical for the state to continue to prosper. It gave me a larger network of mentors to connect with; it made me feel like I was part of a larger organization.”

“It’s an outstanding program,” says Garcia, who plans to stay involved for years to come. “We’re privileged and honored that [the CLYLP board] continues to choose Sacramento State as the venue for this incredible student experience.

Written by Justine Brown