While many non-profits are struggling in a lagging economy, Sociedad Latina in Roxbury has stepped up its far-reaching “Pathways to Success” program — an initiative that recently earned the group recognition from the largest Latino advocacy group in the United States.
Sociedad Latina has been honored as the Northeast Affiliate of the Year by the National Council of La Raza, an award that recognizes groups for exemplary work in serving local communities.
Daniel Rico, grants and special programs coordinator for NCLR, said Sociedad Latina has shown great promise in programs that empower youths. He cited the "Pathways to Success" model, which focuses on providing youths with educational assistance, civic engagement opportunities, and college and career exploration, with an emphasis on cultural proficiency. High school youth work in four "workforce development" programs, receiving a stipend for their work and gaining work-readiness skills.
“Sociedad Latina is essentially the role model for NCLR affiliates in the Northeast,” Rico said. “This model allows the youth to address life challenges. . . and to become advocates and leaders within their communities.That is something NCLR strives for."
Alexandra Oliver Davila, executive director of Sociedad Latina, said she was honored by the national recognition, which she hoped would give the organization leverage in seeking support from foundations. Each regional winner is given $5,000 and an invitation to NCLR conferences, where its work is highlighted.
Oliver Davila credited the organization's ability to retain young people over the long term and to show successful outcomes.
“I think that the fact that we have been doing innovative work really caught their attention," she said.
Emily Barker, a doctorate student at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, has been volunteering with Sociedad Latina for six years, working with its Mission Enrichment Program, which offers tutoring to students in sixth through eighth grades. She said the organization deserves the award because "they show their engagement in everything that they do."
Barker said it's been rewarding to watch students progress academically and go on to college.
“You get to see students grow and go on to do bigger and better things,” she said.
Oliver Davila said the agency's emphasis on ensuring that young Latinos are culturally proficient is an important aspect of its mission.
“Being proud of being Latino, being proud of your heritage, but knowing and understanding that there are a lot of injustices in the world, is most important,” she said. Empowering youth "has to come from a place of having cultural awareness.”
Sociedad Latina was established in 1968 to help combat the cycle of poverty, health inequalities and a lack of educational and professional opportunities. The agency works with roughly 3,000 youths and adults each year.
Despite the tough economic times, Oliver Davila said the program has continued to expand in the past two years, creating more than 200 paid youth leaderships jobs.
She credits the agency's board and treasurer with spearheading aggressive fundraising.
As important as funding is, she said, so too is setting priorities that can be met.
“We make sure that we meet our goals. When we say we’re going to do something, we make it happen,” she said.
This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.