Community Voices: Student organization grows tomorrow’s leaders

When you are raised in a home like mine, where one or both parents have an advanced degree, following in these footsteps is often the logical choice. When no one in your family has attended college, however, the idea of embarking on the path of higher education may seem out of reach.

For Vicente Mendez, this was certainly the case. Upon entering high school, Mendez was unsure of his academic future and, like many young Latinos, he thought that finances and his minority status would be impediments to achieving his dreams of going to college. Neither of Mendez’s parents, nor any of his siblings, had attended college.

During his sophomore year, however, Mendez was invited to join a student organization that would provide him with the tools and resources necessary to graduate from Collins Hill High School, in Suwanee, and begin attending Georgia Gwinnett College in August.

“My goal is to be a mechanical engineer, and I’m going to accomplish it at Georgia Tech. I’m proud to be the first in my family to go to college,” said the 18-year-old who comes from a Mexican family.

Mendez is one of the more than 4,000 students who have been impacted by Hispanic Organization Promoting Education, a non-profit created five years ago by Latino students, Angela Hurtado and David Araya. HoPe’s goal is to inspire and motivate Hispanic students to become leaders, graduate high school and attend college.

Both Angela and David know firsthand the challenges and difficulties faced by immigrants whose parents brought them to the United States as young children, in search of a better life.

“We know what these students are going through because we lived the same experience, and that helps to better understand them and teach them the potential they have to become leaders,” said Araya, president of HoPe.

HoPe’s mission is to stop the dropout cycle in Georgia. It is an issue that hits close to home for the Hispanic community. According to the Georgia Department of Education, 1 out of every 23 Hispanic students in the state dropped out of high school in the 2013-2014 academic year.

What started out as one chapter and 20 students is now the largest Hispanic high school organization in the Southeast, according to HoPe founders.

“For the 2015-2016 school year we expect to have 26 leadership chapters in 11 school districts across Georgia. We expect to have more than 2,000 members for the next school year,” said Hurtado, Vice-President of HoPe.

Each chapter focuses on academic performance, leadership development and community service. As well, HoPe organizes a leadership conference, which last year saw an attendance of more than 800 students from all across Georgia.

Mendez went on to become president of the Collins Hill High School HoPe chapter, which has 90 other members.

“We must have the ability to connect with all students. HoPe does a phenomenal job of closing the achievement gap for Hispanic and Latino students,” explained Reuben J. Gresham, Principal of Lanier High School, which opened its own HoPe chapter five years ago.

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