San Diego – The Latino Mentors of America program, being implemented in San Diego, Los Angeles and Sacramento, creates a relationship between Hispanic professionals and high school students that prepares young people for their future in college and the workplace.
Rolando Moreno, an Escondido High graduate and former assistant soccer coach at the University of California, San Diego, founded the group in 1997 that today has close to 50 professionals including doctors and successful entrepreneurs.
Moreno, who has a law office, said that the need for the program became evident when he realized that even students with good credentials had trouble getting jobs.
"I saw they needed to develop skills in making contacts, and if that was true for students in majority groups, I knew that Hispanic students would need to even more," he said.
Moreno said that he worked with university students for almost seven years before switching to high schools in 2002.
In 1992 Moreno began giving lectures on social skills to UCSD students, but when they told him that what he was teaching would have been worth a lot more if they had learned it in high school, he together with five other businessmen decided to found Latino Mentors.
"Today's students have more contact with media, but they still ask things like...how many years does it take to graduate from college? What is college life like? How does a person adapt to that kind of life? Because among Latinos, for example, young women are not used to leaving their patriarchal surroundings and parents don't want them going very far from home," he said.
"Latino mentors meet with students from once a week to once a month, either one-on-one or in a classroom, and frequently keep in touch with them once they've entered university," he said.
Since Hispanic students tend to lack role models, Moreno said, the presence of successful professionals on campus helps them shed the stereotypes, a particularly valuable benefit where the school's staff has few Hispanic teachers.
"The mentors' work varies by area. Schools in Los Angeles ask that they come once a week to an area designated by the school for the protection of students," he said.
In Sacramento they only want lecturers in the schoolrooms and want them to concentrate on finding the kids scholarships, "since many students don't think they're qualified, but now there are many more scholarships available," he said.
San Diego combines the two models, Moreno said, adding that to help interested students "we try to find mentors with flexible schedules, because mentors are volunteers who know their time is a valuable asset for students."