Certain segments of our population are still markedly behind in high-school graduation rates and, as a result, in earning ability on entering adulthood. It's a situation that cries out for a solution . . . like a certain program you'll find in Minnesota. But first a few statistics . . .
"reached a record 59.9 million in 2018, up 1.2 million over the
previous year." In addition, Latinos are one of the youngest
racial/ethnic groups in the US, with "a median age of 30 in
the US high
school dropout rates
overall have declined from 15% in 1970 to 6% in 2016, there remain
some troubling rate gaps for certain groups. "Hispanic youth are
more likely to have dropped out of high school than children of other
consider Minnesota . . .
"Minnesota's Hispanic population is one of the fastest growing," with one in every 20 Minnesota residents identifying as Hispanic as of 2014.
Minnesota's Hispanic population is also younger than the state's overall population. In 2014, "the median age of Hispanics [was] 24 compared to 38 for Minnesota overall."
While "high school graduation rates for Minnesota's Hispanic students have climbed over the last decade," they "remain well below the overall state average of 80 percent."
Only 16% of this population aged "25 and older has a bachelor's degree, compared to 33 percent of Minnesota's overall population."
And Hispanics in Minnesota earn less on average. In 2014, "[t]he median income of a Hispanic-headed household [was] $18,000 less than the overall state median household income. About I in 4 Hispanics live in poverty, more than double the poverty rate for all Minnesotans."
then, there is a pressing need to help the large population of young
Latinos/Hispanics, especially in Minnesota, stay in school in order
to find greater success in adult life. And that's exactly what
Carmen Robles, the driving force behind Jóvenes
de Salud, is doing in St. Paul, with a little bandana
de Salud – Help and Hope for Latino Youth in St. Paul
"Jóvenes de Salud is an after-school, peer-to-peer, youth-led mentor program." This program, which has the support of adult mentors, taps into the power of the "It takes a village" concept to engage families and encourage students "to reach academic goals through grassroots leadership."
began in 2005, with
support from tobacco settlements,
program under the auspices of the Association for Nonsmokers MN. It
then continued as an LLC after the tobacco support ended. And here's
what the program focused on in the early days . . .
school youth grades 9th-12th
participate in the legislative process from concept to execution.
Youth have been successful in passing ordinances in the areas of
smoke-free parks, smoke-free restaurants, smoke-free homes and
smoke-free cars, addressing 2nd-hand
smoke issues and limiting window signage in Ramsey County.
lobbied school boards successfully encouraging them to adopt language
strengthening smoke-free and tobacco-free policies on school grounds.
Youth kicked the tobacco industry out of the 2012 Cinco de Mayo
parade by raising $5000, replacing the amount the tobacco industry
was offering festival organizers to hand out cigarette coupons.
have created educational materials and have presented supporting
documents to district councils, school boards, legislatures, city
hall, and state capitol legislators and representatives. In addition,
they have been active in voter-registration activities."
a result of this commendable work, Jóvenes
de Salud has been recognized as a "best-practices model by the
Center for Disease Control and the National Latino Council on Tobacco
or Health," as well as having received numerous awards,
"including two Minnesota State Commendations and a State
under the guiding hand of Carmen Robles, the work of Jóvenes de
Salud has expanded to have a primary focus of helping these young
school to have a shot at a better future. Besides the peer mentoring,
a major ingredient in all this is her creative use of flag
bandanas to instill ethnic pride in St. Paul's at-risk Latino
involved takes to heart the wise
words of Cesar Chavez: "Once social change begins, it cannot
be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to
read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot
oppress the people who are not afraid anymore."
Robles – The Driving Force
who is this Carmen Robles anyway?
President of Jóvenes
de Salud, is just a regular person like most of us, but also someone
pretty exceptional. For she is a mother (two children), a grandmother
of three (including her cat), a glass and mosaic artist, and a breast
cancer survivor. She is also a respected journalist and storyteller.
has 30+ years' "experience in grassroots community development .
. . bringing together key stakeholders to foster self-sufficiency
the Latino communities." She has an impressive background in
public relations, multicultural marketing, and
development – all of which has garnered her national recognition.
resume also includes an appointment to the Minnesota Board of
Education and a stint serving as Legislative and Cultural Liaison to
former Minnesota governor Arne Carlson, as well as recognition in a
mentoring campaign. On top of all that, Robles is a successful
program developer, trainer, and coach, as well as an engaging
motivational and inspirational public speaker, with her own
consulting business. A talented woman, indeed, who is eminently
equipped to lead Jóvenes de Salud.
all the possibilities stretching out
her, though, Robles has chosen to invest her time and talents in
Minnesota's and St. Paul's Latino Youth. It's an investment that will
pay handsome dividends – in Minnesota, society-wide, and out into
the world at large.
Really Goes on at Jóvenes
specifically, does Jóvenes
de Salud offer?
pillars of the work of Jóvenes de Salud are:
The "Cesar Chavez curriculum on social justice, which encompasses community involvement and promotes a sense of advocacy
The youth apprenticeship program, which has rigorous standards and is aimed at "connecting academics with youth leadership through community-service projects"
youth peer-to-peer mentoring program, "led by program alumni and
mentors from all sectors of life," includes:
Providing "an enriching culturally specific environment" to educate and engage both youth and families
"Building school and team spirit to address health and wellness, nutrition, bullying, and domestic challenges"
"Promoting "leadership through community service"
the many and various community-service activities include
La Familia Expo
Cinco de Mayo
Community health fairs
all of this, Robles has the role of a grandmother figure who demands
excellence. Her main goal, she said, is to build pride in these young
people when it comes to their respective ethnic heritages
and then use that as a collective force. When we asked her what she
wanted to put forward here as the takeaway, she immediately
responded: "These young people are totally awesome, and I want
them to have pride in their ethnic heritage." This is, as we
mentioned, fostered through the use of flag
Robles was quick to add that "the American
flag is number one."
Highlights and Achievements
of the more recent developments for Jóvenes
de Salud is the emphasis on promoting opioid awareness to help do
something about a problem that is nearing pandemic proportions. They
this through community strategy events to facilitate conversations in
the Latin community about the effects of opioid abuse.
main work of Jóvenes de Salud remains the Youth Apprenticeship
Program to help kids stay in school. This is, as we mentioned,
accomplished through building spirit and teamwork. Recently, for
example, Blue Cross and Blue Shield sponsored a soccer team for these
young people. The team never won a game, but all the kids involved
stayed in school.
addition, Jóvenes de Salud put on a baseball clinic
Puerto Rican kids who wound up in Minnesota after fleeing Hurricane
It culminated in a picnic baseball game attended by 100 families from
Minnesota and Wisconsin. And some even received tickets to a
Minnesota Twins game. But they all got
bandana flags as a symbol of and to promote pride in their ethnic
then there's St. Paul's Cinco de Mayo parade. Latino youth from
de Salud have
been marching in this parade for some time to, as Robles said,
"instill collective pride as a community." Every marcher
wears a flag bandana denoting his or her family's country of origin
to help engender pride in heritage. And it certainly seems to be
said she and Jóvenes
de Salud have
been getting the bandanas from Wholesale
For Everyone since 2005. It was only recently, though, that she
realized that the company had a human face and provided such great
customer service. As Robles put it, a recent interaction with
Wholesale for Everyone "showed me they have a heart."
order of doo rags wasn't received as desired. But before Robles could
contact the company about it, Jeff from Wholesale For Everyone called
her to see if the order was received and whether it was satisfactory.
And on talking to Robles, Jeff immediately set about putting things
summed up this way: "I could buy
bandanas anywhere. It's the really, really great
customer service that keeps me ordering from Wholesale For
Investment that Pays Off Handsomely
hear a lot about wise investing today. And the financial gurus tell
us that a very good rate of return on an investment is anywhere from
7% to 15% (with the higher number pretty uncommon). But what we don't
hear as much is that investing in people, especially at-risk youth,
can yield a return with percentage points in the hundreds.
the return on that investment benefits everyone in all kinds of ways
– higher wage earners buying more and stimulating the economy and
paying more taxes, informed and educated voters, a better and more
morally upright citizenry – all making our country a better place
if you want to make an investment that pays off handsomely, consider
donating to or getting involved with organizations like Jóvenes
it doesn't hurt either to shop at the businesses
that support these worthy organizations.
Carmen Robles assured us, "Youth can be engaged. Youth can be