The Latin American Youth Center offers programs and services to young people throughout the Washington, D.C. area — with the District as its base — and its services are available to anyone regardless of ethnicity.
Lupi Quinteros-Grady serves as the CEO of the LAYC. Quinteros-Gray said the center got its start in 1968 when Latinos activists and those who supported them expressed concerns about few resources in the District’s public and private sectors for immigrants fleeing from their countries. Since that time, Quinteros-Grady said the LAYC has worked on aiding immigrant and Latino families and others, with its focus on young people, on having a better way of life.
“We are designed to empower youth,” she said. “We seek to create opportunities and access for the youth we serve. We want to help young people achieve their goals and to be their best. Also, we want to make sure they have access to the resources they need.”
Since its founding in 1968, the LAYC has achieved several milestones. The center opened offering educational and vocational services as well as after school and summer programs. In 1995, the LAYC expanded by receiving its first U.S. Housing and Urban Development grant to participate in YouthBuild, a program designed to help low-income youth learn the construction trade so they can build affordable housing, community centers and schools. The following year, AmeriCorps, a voluntary civil service program with the mission of engaging adults in public service, became a part of the LAYC and in 1998, the center moved to its present site at Columbia Road., N.W. and established its first charter institution, Next Steps Public Charter School.
Another charter, Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School, started in 2001 and that year launched a partnership with Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream giant. The Maryland expansion commenced in 2005, starting in Prince George’s County and eventually included Montgomery County. The YouthBuild Public Charter School got its start in 2005, too. In 2009, the LAYC’s Hope House opened with residential facilities for teen parents and children under distress. Hope House serves as the only bilingual facility for teen parents in the District. In 2012, the LAYC started its career academy giving its students the chance to take courses in the health care and technology fields in addition to offering Advanced Placement and college-oriented classes. In 2014, the Washington Informer honored then LAYC President Lori Kaplan for her work in the District.
Quinteros-Grady said the LAYC’s housing initiatives and wraparound services in hunger, education and employment are open to anyone in need. She said while Latino youth serve as its focus, African Americans have a long history of participation.
“We have had a change in our demographics,” Quinteros-Grady said. “Two years ago, 60 percent of the people we serve were Latinos while 40 percent were African American. Now, 46 percent are Latino and 42 percent are African American. It would seem African Americans participate more in our housing programs. African Americans also participate in our drop-in center program where people can get a meal, take a shower and wash clothes. In recent years, we have noticed a number of LGBTQ youth have utilized our services. Nevertheless, we serve anyone who needs help and we are working to meet young people where they are.”
Quinteros-Grady said LAYC has programs in the District’s predominantly Black Wards 7 and 8 located east of the Anacostia River, even though the census indicates those jurisdictions are only three percent Latino.
“We are working with young people in Kramer Middle School and Anacostia and Ballou High Schools,” she said. “We have mental health specialists available to students at those schools. We hold counseling sessions for students and have staff on site at those schools.”
Quinteros-Grady said she and her team are thankful to political, community and philanthropic leaders for their support of the LAYC and looks forward to continuing the work.
“We are proud to be an anchor in the community,” she said. “We have been around 52 years and we have been able to evolve and respond to the needs of the community in real time.”