Building Latinx Youth Leadership on Oregon's North Coast

A story with Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative La Voz de la Comunidad.

A group of nine Latinx youth pose in front of a wooden bridge surrounded by trees and other greenery.

BYP100. Dreamers. The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Youth are leaders. And, they will continue to lead as they grow older. We need to prepare them for future leadership roles, from committees and boards to elected office and everything in between.

Oregon and Southwest Washington become more and more racially and ethnically diverse every day. Unfortunately, there are few culturally-specific youth leadership programs, particularly beyond the I-5 corridor. Youth of color don’t see themselves represented at most leadership programs, and, often, they opt out.

A decade ago, Cispus Learning Center staff member Vincent Perez noticed few Latinxs participated in youth leadership programs in Washington. So, he convinced the Association of Washington School Principals to develop a leadership camp specifically for Latinx youth. That camp was La Cima, a bilingual leadership camp for Latinx youth with the goal of building their skills and improving school climates. Last year, noticing a similar need in their region, Lower Columbia Hispanic Council started La Cima Lower Columbia on Oregon’s North Coast.

La Cima Lower Columbia welcomes Latinx high school students from Astoria High School, Seaside High School, Warrenton High School, Tillamook High School and Taft High School in Lincoln City. In 2017, 19 students spent three days together at Camp Kiwanilong. This April, 36 students spent four days together. Both years, participants wished the camp went on longer.

Participants and staff in the second La Cima Lower Columbia camp in 2018 pose together in rows. There are 48 people total.

At La Cima, everything is in English AND Spanish, and no one has to be proficient in both – campers or staff. Campers engage in hands-on activities, reflecting on experiences and issues, making goals for themselves, creating fun group presentations and solving problems together.    

“[La Cima] is a great camp,” said 2018 participant Alma Bolaños Hinojosa. “Not only will you make friends, but you feel the atmosphere of a family. When you least expect it, at the end of the day, you are already known as a leader.”

Six Latinx youth stand in a row, foot to foot, their legs spread wide. They're inside a wooden shelter with picnic tables.

This year, youth spent the last day of camp learning how to start clubs at their schools. That way, they’ll still have a little bit of La Cima with them throughout the year. So far, Astoria High School and Warrenton High School have both received funding for this purpose.

Lower Columbia Hispanic Council Executive Director Jorge Gutierrez wrote, “I have found this program to be unique, innovative and among the most rewarding and satisfying work I have been a part of as an executive director at LCHC.”

As the lead organization for La Voz de la Comunidad, one of Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities’ ten Community Collaboratives, LCHC is involved in a project to learn about leadership development programs across Oregon and Southwest Washington and create a resource bank of leadership development curriculum. La Cima Leadership Camp is an asset to our region, and will certainly help inform that resource bank.