MANOS: Inspiring Latino Youth
The middle and high school years are challenging for most youth, but when you add the responsibility of being the vehicle for your families’ acculturation, or the process of adopting the cultural traits or social patterns of another group, the challenges can be overwhelming. For many Latino families, they face isolation due to language and culture barriers. Many youth are the connectors between their families and the community.
MANOS, which stands for Mentoring and Nurturing Our Students, as well as the Spanish word for “hands” , offers youth a safe and welcoming space. Children First/Communities In Schools Latino Outreach Coordinator, Norma Brown and Bonner Leader Service Learning students from Warren Wilson College collaborated to create MANOS. It serves Latino 8th grade & high-school students every Monday from 6:00 pm-8:00 pm. Each week Warren Wilson students lead the Latino youth in community and civic engagement activities, assist them with homework, and help the students prepare for college.
Along with the academic component, this program offers something much more subtle, and in some ways, more valuable: providing Latino youth a place to relax from the pressures and expectations of being a conduit between their families and the greater community.
“I want MANOS to be that place where the students feel inspired to become their generation’s “inspirators”, says Norma. This program holds a special place in Norma’s heart because she personally understands some of the challenges facing Latino families. She remembers the difficulties she faced as she moved from Argentina with her husband and two young children 13 years ago. Norma works at the Children First/CIS Family Resource Center at Emma (FRCE) where she provides informational referral, emergency assistance and parenting/literacy classes. Always a tireless advocate for educational access, she has helped facilitate numerous college access workshops, and works directly with families to remove barriers to their success.
Some barriers to educational success are outside the control of students as national and state laws can be a disincentive for undocumented Latino youth to complete their education. In 2012, the Obama administration issued the DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) policy that provides an opportunity for undocumented youth to stay in school, graduate, and pursue higher education. The policy allows undocumented youth a two-year (renewable) deferment of any deportation and provides temporary legal residency to complete school. This is a temporary solution, but does not implement a permanent path to citizenship for youth that arrived as children. Additionally, North Carolina does not allow undocumented youth to receive in-state tuition. This means many high-achieving students cannot afford to continue their education. Representative Susan Fisher (Buncombe County) joined with other state legislators to introduce HB 904 in 2013 that would allow undocumented NC high school graduates the chance to receive in-state tuition. The bill did not pass. Latino youth are aware of policy changes that can affect them and their families, and MANOS provides information through workshops and guest speakers.
But even amidst larger policy debates, the MANOS program continues to inspire participants as students and leaders. Recently, Norma partnered with Deborah Miles of the Center for Diversity Education to enroll ten MANOS students in the two-day Me2We Youth Leadership Conference at the YMI. This program focuses on inclusive community building, leadership skills development, intergenerational instruction, experiential learning, and peer mentoring.
“They (MANOS students) were so excited,” says Norma Brown. “They enjoyed all the activities, and were given the opportunity to discover talents and build on their interests.” The conference included workshops on photography, poetry, as well as community engagement and leadership skills. “This conference is also an opportunity for these students to realize the impact they can have on their own destinies,” Norma continues, “as well as how they can affect and promote change in the world.”
“I like coming to MANOS because of the people and the atmosphere,” says Cirilo Barrera, a 10th grader from Erwin High School who is returning to MANOS for a second year. “I get to see my friends and the mentors. We work, but we also have fun.”
Do you know an Latino 8th grader or high-school student that would be interested in attending MANOS on Mondays from 6:00-8:00? Contact Children First/CIS Latino Outreach Coordinator, Norma Brown at NormaB@childrenfirstbc.org or call 828-252-4810 for more information.
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Children First/Communities In Schools of Buncombe County is a local non-profit that provides programs to economically disadvantaged children & families. Children First’s mission is to empower children and their families to reach their full potential through advocacy, education and services. The mission of Communities In Schools is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. www.childrenfirstcisbc.org. Jodi Ford is the Outreach and Engagement Coordinator and can be reached at
828-620-9091 or JodiF@childrenfirstbc.org.