Carmen Robles and Jóvenes de Salud – Investing in Minnesota's Latino Youth For a Better Future


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 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 help from Wholesale For Everyone., is doing in St. Paul, with a little bandana help from Wholesale For Everyone.

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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 . . .

Nationwide, the Hispanic population "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 2018."

While 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 major races/ethnicities."

Now 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."

Obviously, 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 help from Wholesale For Everyone.

Jóvenes 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."

Jóvenes de Salud began in 2005, with support from tobacco settlements, as a 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 . . .

"High 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.

"Students 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.

"Students 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."

As 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 Proclamation."

Today, under the guiding hand of Carmen Robles, the work of Jóvenes de Salud has expanded to have a primary focus of helping these young people stay in 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 youth.

Everyone 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."

Carmen Robles – The Driving Force

So who is this Carmen Robles anyway?

Robles, 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.

In addition, Robles has 30+ years' "experience in grassroots community development . . . bringing together key stakeholders to foster self-sufficiency within the Latino communities." She has an impressive background in public relations, multicultural marketing, and youth development – all of which has garnered her national recognition.

Robles' 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 Peabody Award-winning 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.

With all the possibilities stretching out before 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.

What Really Goes on at Jóvenes de Salud

What, specifically, does Jóvenes de Salud offer?

The two supporting pillars of the work of Jóvenes de Salud are:

  1. The "Cesar Chavez curriculum on social justice, which encompasses community involvement and promotes a sense of advocacy

  2. The youth apprenticeship program, which has rigorous standards and is aimed at "connecting academics with youth leadership through community-service projects"

The 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"

And the many and various community-service activities include participation in:

  • La Familia Expo

  • Cinco de Mayo

  • Community health fairs

  • Community-based organizations

  • Churches

  • Social media

Throughout 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 bandanas.

But Robles was quick to add that "the American flag is number one."

Recent Highlights and Achievements

One 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 are doing this through community strategy events to facilitate conversations in the Latin community about the effects of opioid abuse.

The 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.

In addition, Jóvenes de Salud put on a baseball clinic for Puerto Rican kids who wound up in Minnesota after fleeing Hurricane Maria and the aftermath. 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 heritage.

And then there's St. Paul's Cinco de Mayo parade. Latino youth from Jóvenes 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 working.

Robles 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."

An 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 right.

Robes summed up this way: "I could buy bandanas anywhere. It's the really, really great customer service that keeps me ordering from Wholesale For Everyone."

An Investment that Pays Off Handsomely

We 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.

And 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 to live.

So if you want to make an investment that pays off handsomely, consider donating to or getting involved with organizations like Jóvenes de Salud.

And it doesn't hurt either to shop at the businesses that support these worthy organizations.

For, Carmen Robles assured us, "Youth can be engaged. Youth can be our leaders."


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