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Photo from Elen Bianca Ferreira de Souza

Under the guidance of 2017 College graduates Alexa Salas and Camilo Toro and 2017 Nursing graduate Yaneli Arizmendi, roughly 15 Penn students began serving as tutors and mentors this week for the local after-school leadership program Lanzando Líderes. 

Lanzando Líderes, which is translated as "Launching Leaders," brings 20 local college students to South Philadelphia every week to connect with 25 Latino high school students, many of whom come from immigrant or first-generation low-income backgrounds.

Salas, Toro and Arizmendi started the program this year after receiving $100,000 from the President's Engagement Prize this past March. 

"I can really see the long term impact already. We're working really hard to build a strong foundation. We're evaluating as we go," Arizmendi said.

The group works closely with Puentes de Salud, or "Bridges to Health" — a major health and education organization that caters to the Latinx community in Philadelphia — to offer academic and leadership workshops to help the high school students "navigate the education system."

Toro said while they were unsure whether enough high school students would be interested in the program, the three founders were amazed at the demand from the community. He noted that the group plans on growing in the future and already has a waiting list for interested participants.

"It's so surprising, in the most amazing way, how this community is so united, and the word of mouth is so key," Salas said. "The parents show up for their kids, and the kids show up for themselves."

The leaders said that despite recent political announcements, such as the impending repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act, the mission of Lanzando Líderes remains constant.

“Given the fears that are in the Latino community overall, we recognize that, but we have to work extra hard to foster trust,” Arizmendi said.

Engineering sophomore Enoch Solano-Sanchez joined Lanzando Líderes through the University of Pennsylvania Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.  He plans to volunteer on a weekly basis for two to three hours, tutoring students in homework and projects related to math.

“I am also a child of immigrants,” Solano-Sanchez said. “In my life I never really felt like I had someone to guide me. I got lucky and got placed into the hands of awesome teachers. But that was all luck. I sort of feel like I owe it to people in my sort of situation to help them reach their full potential.”

Salas, Toro and Arizmendi also teamed up with professors in various courses to recruit Penn student volunteers.

Assistant professor of sociology Amada Armenta, who teaches the academically based community service course called "Latinos in United States," said she collaborated with Lanzando Líderes to help Penn students “get into communities and organizations doing work in south Philly.”  

With an increase in student interest for academically-based community service courses, Armenta reached out to the program organizers to establish a new connection. 

“I know that Lanzando is only funded [by Penn] for a year, but as long as they continue I will keep sending them students,” Armenta said. 

Wharton junior Elen "Bibi" Ferreira De Souza was connected to the program through the Latinos in the U.S. course.

For Ferreira de Souza, Lanzando Líderes seemed like the perfect fit as she finds social entrepreneurship to be one of her biggest passions.

“I really look forward to inspiration from the founders as to how they’ve gone about their social impact kind of work” Ferreira de Souza said.

“I like the idea of paying it forward to the community, particularly in Philadelphia,”  Ferreira De Souza added. “I haven’t been as involved and haven’t seen much of the city. It’s particularly great to meet fellow Latinos in Philadelphia as I feel the Latino culture very strongly in my life.”