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Hispanic Students Can Achieve Much More With Help From You

by Myriam Marquez

June 12, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.

After decades of struggles to reach academic parity with whites, African-Americans finally are catching up in at least one important marker: high-school graduation. Nationally, African-Americans and non-Hispanic whites are graduating at virtually the same rate -- 90 percent.

Despite the added stress of disproportionate poverty among blacks and the lack of positive male role models in the lives of many inner-city boys, we are seeing children rise above those obstacles.

A recent White House conference on teenagers focused on ways to rear responsible and resourceful youth. It found a host of reasons why teens of all races are doing better academically. Tops among them: Parental involvement.

No surprise there.

What happens, though, when single or divorced parents stressed beyond limits working two jobs can't be there at critical times for their children?

How can those parents help their kids succeed when they have to work, work, work just to put food on the table and give their family shelter?

Mentoring programs, such as Central Florida's YMCA Black Achievers and the Orange County Compact can help.

Those programs and others that recruit hundreds of volunteers each year are making a huge difference in the lives of many children of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

For Hispanic children, the need for bilingual mentors and tutors is critical. Hispanics have the highest dropout rate of all student groups. And Hispanic girls, in particular, are at a higher risk of attempting suicide, getting pregnant and abusing drugs or alcohol than girls in all other ethnic or racial groups.

A recent report by Connecting Communities & Creating Change, a Los Angeles-based group that advocates for improving the Hispanic community's health and well-being, found that Hispanic mentors can help build up girls' self esteem and help them avoid risky behaviors.

Unfortunately, it's sometimes difficult to find sufficient volunteer mentors who can spend the time that's required. It's hard, too, for some business people and professionals used to getting things done in a New York minute to realize that the rewards of mentoring come in small, incremental steps.

The rewards, though, can be great when you look into the eyes of teens who for the first time are being recognized for doing what's right instead of getting yelled at for messing up.

On Saturday, there were many bright eyes and eager smiles at the YMCA Hispanic Achievers 2000 excellence awards luncheon. Parents and volunteers were on hand to recognize 45 Orange County students in this year's program.

Hispanic Achievers started last year with a pilot program at Oak Ridge High School and now also serves Colonial High School students. Next school year, the program plans to expand to the Buenaventura Lakes area in Kissimmee, where many Hispanics, particularly Puerto Rican families, live.

Before his death this year, Osceola County Commissioner Robert Guevara had been working with the YMCA's Dan Garcia to broaden the program. Guevara's wife, Dalis, promised Saturday to continue her husband's work and donated money the community contributed.

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida, led by Rick Hernandez, a Sentinel advertising executive, has been instrumental in helping encourage more business people and professionals to volunteer, too.

Anyone who wants to help for the coming school year, should contact Dan Garcia at 407-895-4299.

Don't procrastinate.

Even if you can only give a few hours once or twice a year, every moment counts.

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