Leaders on the Rise - George Garcia, Latin American Youth Center
May 5, 2020
Each quarter, we feature a past participant of the Rising Leaders program in a section we call "Leaders on the Rise." For this installment, we spoke with George Garcia, Director of Education and Workforce at the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC). Garcia discussed ways LAYC is pivoting to address our community's most pressing needs and how the Rising Leaders program prepared him for the here and now.
As Director of Education and Workforce at the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) you help youth in need across our region access opportunities and reach success. How has your work shifted during the pandemic?
We have had to shift all of our services and service delivery at LAYC. For example, the focus on case management has grown. We already knew that our youth needed a lot of supportive services but, because of the pandemic, all of the challenges in meeting basic needs have been exacerbated. We have had to shift from a direct services mindset to both case management and direct services to make sure we are meeting the new needs we are seeing.
If the basic needs are not being addressed, the youth we serve can’t be as successful as they pursue their education. So, we have been focused on providing laptops, housing, and rental assistance. Basic needs can mean a lot of different things. It can be food, housing, or things as simple as toothbrushes and hand soap.
Youth with undocumented family members are experiencing the greatest challenges. They are the ones being left out the most because the government assistance is not there. They are not only left out from the stimulus money, they also cannot access services like food stamps, unemployment insurance, and other resources. They are really left with nothing. It is already challenging enough for them to provide for their families but now they don’t have access to jobs.
What are the biggest emerging needs you are seeing right now in the community you serve?
Mental health challenges, drastic increases in the need for rental assistance, and shortages of food. The price of food is going up at the grocery stores. Families that already were food insecure are facing additional challenges due to rising costs. We also saw an explosion in the need for technology. The school systems in DC and Prince George’s did step in but not everyone got covered. So, we had to fill gaps in providing laptops and wi-fi hotspots because, without internet access, youth can't receive educational support. Many youths we serve are sharing the laptops with multiple family members.
We are also seeing an increase in domestic violence, sexual assault, and we predict a future increase in STI incidence. For example, with health services harder to access, we are concerned about seeing an increase in HIV infections. The issues that we are starting to see now are going to evolve and become more complex. We are going to see fallout from the effects for years. So, we have to prepare for that now.
There will be a need for greater support in education. With physical distancing, students do not have a physical person in front of them. In a classroom setting, they can ask a teacher for help during the lessons. It is more complicated in a virtual environment. We know that we are going to have to put more of an investment in education for the young people we serve to get them to the point where they can make up the lost ground.
We are being very creative in the way we serve our clients. We have adjusted our data collection process to paint a more accurate picture of how we are addressing new needs.
From March 16 to April 24, we conducted 1,145 remote check-ins for case management and referrals, 390 youth were served through 1,215 separate referrals. We have 174 new enrollments in our programs, 26 of those are coming to us because they were impacted specifically by COVID-19. Seventy-nine youth attended online GED courses, 32 attended online job readiness training, and 209 participated in online extracurricular activities or afterschool programming.
How did the Rising Leaders program help you evolve professionally? Was there one thing that stood out the most from your program experience?
The program increased my confidence in my leadership abilities. I was just promoted on April 1, so I have had to learn my new job in the midst of a global health crisis!
The Rising Leaders program definitely helped me with my presence as a leader. It has helped me with managing my team and conveying messages effectively. It increased my public speaking skills; I even learned helpful tips on body language and ways to improve my social media profiles.
Another thing that really stood out were the connections I made with my class. We still keep in touch over Group Me and we used to meet up after work. In fact, I discovered that two other people in my class were also born in the Inland Empire! We have all remained close.
Learn more about the LAYC here.
Special thanks to the Crimsonbridge Leadership Fund for scholarships in support of Rising Leaders from the nonprofit sector.