By Bianca Bermejo, Writer
At first glance, Chicas Youth Development appears to be a small club for Latina youth where girls learn to embrace their heritage and learn about the importance of education. However, what most people don’t realize is that Chicas is a huge aspect in the lives of the youth it serves. It’s an extension of the organization Adelante Mujeres based here in Forest Grove, and is formerly known as Adelante Chicas. Chicas Youth Development is in an interactive program dedicated to serving these girls and their families in whatever way they can on the road to college, to becoming leaders in their communities, and with the ultimate goal of having all of their girls succeed.
From the time the girls are in Elementary School to after they graduate from High School, Chicas follows the girls though the course of their education while welcoming other members at whatever level they decide to join. Keep in mind, many of the girls in the program are first generation students, which means that neither of the youth’s parents attended college, and they have no experience navigating the educational system. These girls are the first in their families with the opportunity to receive higher education. Chicas is an incredible asset to these girls for the sole reason that it is giving the girls opportunities that they’re not getting anywhere else. Through the program, the girls get to go on field trips to local colleges throughout the course of the year and go to various career fairs and conferences. Chicas also hosts multiple workshops throughout the year to offer aid to girls, both in and out of the program, needing help writing scholarship essays and applying for colleges. The program also has facilitators that are assigned to the schools. These facilitators go and meet with the girls for weekly sessions, with each session being an opportunity to learn about subjects that range from nutrition to money management in college. What this program has that many others don’t is the one-on-one mentoring with girls. Leticia Aguilar, a Chicas facilitator told The Advocate, “we take their needs into consideration, and meet the students where they are at, instead of expecting them to accommodate to our schedules.” If the student needs help, the facilitators will offer it. If the students want to visit a college, the facilitators will try to make it happen. The facilitator interaction is also one of the key aspects of the program. These girls learn to trust and interact with their facilitators over the course of their school years, which is why they are able to effectively communicate their needs and worries with the facilitators. With many of the girls coming from a low-income background, the opportunities to learn and experience different things don’t come very often, but Chicas wants these girls to be informed, and they make these girls a priority.
The family component of Chicas Youth Development is one that is unique and one that they take immense pride in. In the Latino community, the value that family has is immeasurable compared to all else, and Chicas does well in remembering this. With the facilitators always willing to answer questions, multiple family events organized through Chicas, and the opportunity to be an active part in their daughters’ educations, the parents of the participating girls are fully supportive and involved with the program. In a recent family workshop, organized with the Community Learning Center, Chicas had a family turnout of about 150. That’s 150 families in our community coming to learn about navigating the school system, applying for college, or simply, how to prepare yourself when your student goes off to college. The parent engagement does not stop with family workshops. Parents Leadership Group is a result of Chicas involvement with the parents of the girls. The parents of these girls are encouraged to be advocates for the education of not only their daughters, but advocates for the entire Forest Grove School District. Recently the district was going to receive budget cuts from the state, but with the help of the Chicas Parent Leadership Group writing letters to Oregon Department of Education, the district was able to keep the funding. The force that seems to drive these parents is the knowledge that Chicas is helping shape their daughters into the bright women they will one day be.
There is little doubt of the impact Chicas has. Since Chicas has been in the Forest Grove School District, 100% of the seniors in the program have graduated from high school and 97% are enrolled in postsecondary school. Chicas also has a 93% retention, meaning that the girls that are in the program attend 93% of the sessions. Through a partnership with PCC, Chicas has been able to award a total of $30,000 to students in scholarships. Chicas also has a savings account program for the girls. They currently have about 20 girls enrolled in the program, and every student enrolled in the saving account program will receive $12,000 for college expenses. Some of the girls are active members in their community serving on local and national boards. Fellow freshman chica Briana Larios, even had the opportunity to represent the City of Forest Grove in Washington DC last winter. Though they are based here in Forest Grove, Chicas reach also goes to Hillsboro School District, with a prospective expansion to Beaverton School District in the near future.
Chicas Youth Development is a program dedicated to the success of the girls it serves. That is why it’s so successful, and that’s why other school districts want Chicas to be a part if their schools. Two of their new facilitators are returning chicas, coming back knowing the impact Chicas has on the community, and wanting to contribute to it. The youth in the program also know the value Chicas has, and their very own Daisy Echeverria says, “It’s important to have them around,” aware of the fact that Chicas is giving these girls the attention and the opportunities they need in order for them to be fully prepared for whatever lies ahead. Chicas starts the girls down the path of higher education, telling them from a young age of the potential they all have to be great. Once it comes to graduating from high school, the girls go out into the scary world of adulthood with not only their parents cheering them on, but Chicas as well.