Sunday conversation with … Cat McAfee

LaAmistad helps Latino students and their families succeed in school and life

This spring marked a major milestone for LaAmistad, a nonprofit that helps Latino students and their families succeed in school and life. The first kindergarteners served by the nonprofit, which started in 2001 as a small ministry at Buckhead’s Peachtree Presbyterian Church, received their high school diplomas from North Atlanta High School. “It was so amazing to see them walk,” said Cat McAfee, LaAmistad’s executive director. “And they are all college bound.”

The nonprofit’s success is notable as well. Through its partnerships with area schools and churches, LaAmistad, Spanish for “friendship,” served 160 Atlanta students in afterschool mentoring and enrichment programs last school year. It recently wrapped up a summer camp for 70 kids that combined academics with cultural activities.

Moms and dads are a big part of their kids’ success in school, McAfee says. For that reason, the nonprofit also offers parents a range of programs, from nutrition to English as a Second Language.

Q: How did LaAmistad get started?

A: It started out when a group from Peachtree Presbyterian reached out to some Latino students living in apartments across the street from the church. I was part of the church’s rec center at the time and I did sports with the kids. I fell in love with those kids and their families.

Q: Who are your families?

A: Our average family survives on $20,000 a year. They are hardworking and very family oriented. They are here because they want the best life for their kids.

Q: Why are your programs needed?

A: Many of the schools in the metro area have a high number of Latino students and they are struggling to understand how to serve this population.

Q: How are your programs different from others serving this community?

A: Our afterschool program is very different because we take a holistic approach. Not only do we help kids with their homework and give them the foundation they need, we also educate the parents.

Q: How so?

A: When students enter our program, the first thing we do is sit down with the parents and make sure they have a commitment to education. Parents are required to learn English and take workshops so they can understand how to become advocates for their child, to navigate through the school system. We have parenting classes for nutrition, health and finance, all areas Latino families are struggling with.

Q: Can you talk about your successes?

A: We have been very successful — 100 percent of our kids meet or exceed the reading standards on the CRCT and 93 percent passed the math standards for the last five years. Some of our students have gone on to private schools.

Q: Your programs are free. Where does your money come from?

A: Individuals, foundations, donors, grants. We received funding from The Goizueta Foundation that enabled us to double our after-school sites. Our strategic plan calls for opening four new sites a year for the next few years.

Q: Your nonprofit relies on volunteers, correct?

A: With our afterschool programs, it’s volunteers who work with the students. We get volunteers from all over the community — high school and college students, working folk and retirees. We have had some volunteers as young as the sixth grade.

Q: Do volunteers have to know Spanish?

A: All of our students are required to speak English so volunteers do not need to bilingual. People interested in volunteering should email us at

Q: What is the biggest misconception outsiders have about the community you serve?

A: People don’t understand the cultural differences in the way Latino families view the school system. In most Latin cultures, school and home are separate and parents have been taught that they aren’t supposed to go to the school. That is where we struggle and teachers struggle and why it is so important to educate parents that it’s okay to go to their kids’ school.

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