This week, Utah State University hosted 300 middle and high school students from across Utah and Idaho for the Latino Youth Leadership Boot Camp.
USU’s Evan Stevenson Ballroom was packed on Thursday night with students, counselors and mentors. The banquet dinner was one of the final events in a week of workshops, skill-building sessions and a career fair. The camp was put together in partnership between USU Extension and the nonprofit group Latinos in Action, or LIA.
“Latinos in Action is a program that I like to say in a nutshell, we’re in the business of building leaders," said Burton Rojas, who helped organize the conference for LIA.
Rojas said one of the most meaningful parts of the camp was giving students a chance to hear success stories from members of the Latino community. After meals were finished on Thursday night, mentors from a variety of industries stood up and shared their experiences of overcoming challenges.
Many struggled to learn English. Some toiled as field workers. A few spent time in immigration detention centers. But all went on to realize their career goals.
“It’s so important to hear the stories because those stories resonate with our students," Rojas said. "They have similar shared experiences. And when they see someone who they say, ‘gosh, they lived the same thing I’m living,’ all of a sudden a spark of hope comes. And then our student says, ‘well, then maybe I can too.’"
Rojas left the students with a message of encouragement.
“You are amazing," he said. "You are beautiful. You are important, you matter. We want you to be successful.”