YORDAN FUENTES | Courtesy Photo

BYU-I student groups mentor Latino youth

The BYU-Idaho Activities Program is helping to provide volunteers for a new program at Rigby High School designed to help Hispanic students develop a vision of hope for the future.

Yordan Fuentes, Futuro Latino co-director and a junior studying communication, said the program is a Rigby High School program, but the Student Activities Program provides the volunteers.

“The purpose of this club is to help Hispanic students see the potential that they have within themselves to break a cycle of poverty or of low self-esteem,” Fuentes said. “It’s to help them see that they can go to college and graduate and have a successful family and be good citizens.”

Jordan Tway, Futuro Latino co-director and a junior studying computer science, said the idea came from a friend, Eloisa Martinez, who was interning in the counseling department at Rigby High School before graduating from BYU-I last fall with a degree in social work. He said she was working with a Rigby High School counselor and BYU-I alumnus, Don Fryberger, and they saw a need for a sort of hope program for Latino students.

Fryberger said the program is loosely modeled after a program called Club Amigas which was started by a professor at Fordham University in New York.

“Through observations and historical data, we have seen many of our Latino students struggling academically,” Fryberger said. “The most troubling finding is that our Latino students are more likely to fail a class or lose credit due to excessive absences than their peers of other races. This information was disheartening to us as school staff because we want to see all of our kids have a chance at academic and career success.”

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Fryberger said the idea of the program is for college students to serve as mentors and role models to Latino high school students.

“We hope that the program and college mentors can have an impact on the students’ attitudes toward education and improve their achievement over time,” Fryberger said.

Fuentes said the group had their opening activity of the semester two Saturdays ago. He said they went to the Outdoor Learning Center at Badger Creek and spent the day there doing team-building activities. Fuentes said that along with activities like this, volunteers will give students tours of the BYU-I campus.

“Just stepping on campus can make a huge difference, and not only because of the spirit of Ricks, but just being at that place, they can see themselves going to that school,” Fuentes said.

Fuentes said this program makes him think of a younger version of himself. He said he moved to America from El Salvador when he was 9 years old. He said his mother worked to get an education by killing pigs to buy a bus ticket to school.

“My mom literally grew up in a mud-house,” Fuentes said. “She worked all the way up to become a secretary of a banker. She left all of that to give me a better life here in the U.S. because she knew I would do better academically here.”

Fuentes said his mom always reminded him that an education is vital to becoming successful and doing well in life, but he had a lot of friends that did not have that kind of moral support.

“I saw how they lacked that confidence within themselves to do good in school because they didn’t have that goal to eventually go to college,” Fuentes said. “Education can do great things for you, and I want other kids to be able to know that.”

Fryberger said he is grateful for the new program and grateful for the BYU-I volunteers.

“I have always loved BYU-I, and this is just another example of how great a school it is,” Fryberger said. “I appreciate the generosity of the college in being willing to donate resources to benefit our students. I am so impressed with the students who are so giving of their time and so passionate about helping others even outside of the normal sphere.”

Fuentes said all volunteers are welcome, and there is a special need for students who speak Spanish. He said they want to break down social barriers and have volunteers from all different races and backgrounds.

“Look at me,” Tway said. “I’m as far from Latino as you get, and so that doesn’t inhibit anyone from being helpful.”

Fuentes said the program is looking for plenty of volunteers so they can have a mentor to student ratio of 1:7 or 1:5 as opposed to the 1:10 or 1:13 it is now.

“I know that these kids are Heavenly Father’s children and that it is a great opportunity to serve them,” Fuentes said. “I personally hope that they are successful in life, and something as small as you coming to the program can have a huge impact in their lives, in their children and in their grandchildren. Who knows how far this can impact?”

Tway said the program has a spot for anybody who would like to help.

“Individuals have different gifts, but everyone can help,” Tway said.

Tway said they are not expecting to see a huge impact immediately because they are working toward long-term result.

“Real, true changes in a person aren’t seen immediately,” Tway said. “But we hope to change some lives.”

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