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Leslie’s Story: YA! Program Alumni Highlight

December 14, 2018

Throughout the week, we’re highlighting recent graduates from CLUES’ YA! Program. Since 2011, the program has guided more than 120 high school students to achieve their hopes and dreams through one-on-one mentoring, coaching institutes, academic support and community service-learning projects. Please consider supporting the YA! Program with a year-end financial gift! Thanks to a generous donation from the Land O’ Lakes Amigos group, all donations will be matched up to $5,000. Learn more here.

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Leslie’s Story

Leslie is a first-generation Mexican American student who graduated from Park High School in the Spring of 2018. She now attends the University of St. Thomas—the first in her family to attend college—with a major in Social Work.

How did the YA! Program and your mentor prepare you for your life after high school?

I think the program does a good job of showing you the different routes that are available, like two-year and four-year schools. The main purpose is to help you go to college and advance in your education, but it doesn’t push you to do that if you you don’t want to. For me it helped with my applications, FASFA and financial aid.

One of our institutes was life skills, which was really nice. There were 20 different stations about different life skills such as nutrition and healthy relationships. It was stuff that you don’t really know but was good to learn. It’s not just school and education related, but also about your personal life and how to do things.

Are there specific activities/lessons/opportunities YA! provides that especially impacted you?

At every institute there is something different and something new. Overall there are a lot of opportunities that are offered to you. About two years ago, I got to be part of a panel group at the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. That was the first time I was exposed to networking, putting yourself out there and telling your story. After that, a lot of opportunities have come for me to speak to people.

One of my favorite things I got to do was the women’s retreat, because the other ladies and I got to put it together and make it our own. It was one of my favorite things because it was about how to build confidence in ourselves. And it was a really nice time to get to know people – I really got to know more girls better.

What have you learned about yourself throughout your journey with the YA! Program?

We did a survey and test that pointed out your different personalities – things that you might already know but are revealed more. Then I talked to my mentor about the different things that it highlighted. One of them about was not asking for help. I learned that I don’t always like asking for help. And that is something I need to work on, because you have to let others help you and speak up when you need something.

Why do you think programs like YA! are important?

I think it is really important because it is for the Latino community, and there aren’t a lot like it. I think there are a lot of students who need support to get into college, finish high school or things like that. I think it is really important to have a community group to help you through it.

I like YA! because it involves you in so many aspects with the community. It’s not just preparing students for college or after high school. It’s also involving you with your community, doing service projects and building a consciousness about civic engagement. It also gets you to think about more things, and I really like that. It’s a gateway to a lot of opportunities.

YA! does a good job of involving not only the student but the parents as well. There are meetings with parents once in a while, because the parents also don’t know how to navigate the system. I feel like that is something that happens to a lot of people – the students and the parents don’t know how things work or don’t get the help they need at school.

What message or advice do you have for younger Latino students?

There are a lot of things that will put you down, and there are a lot of things that are going to make you want to make excuses for yourself. But don’t make excuses for yourself because of your situation or because of things going on. As hard as it can be, you have to push through it. Just do things and push through them, even when you can’t always envision yourself doing them.

What does it mean to you and your family to graduate?

I’m a first generation student so it’s kind of emotional. All their hard work and all your hard work… you’re finally seeing the outcome of it. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just very exciting.

What’s next for you?

I’m attending the University of St. Thomas. And from there on my goals are to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree and get a job. I think I want to go into social work.

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If you would like to support students like Leslie in achieving their hopes and dreams, consider becoming YA! Program mentor or making a donation to the YA! Program. Thanks to a generous donation from the Land O’ Lakes Amigos group, all donations will be matched up to $5,000! Learn more here.

Posted in CLUES Blog by Austin Wiebe