Kensington’s Congreso receives grant to help Hispanic students

With the Philadelphia Public School District struggling with funding cuts and pending school closures, local programs are still working to support the city’s students.

Kensington’s Congreso de Latinos Unidos, a service organization that works to support the area’s Hispanic population, received a $10,000 grant from the Citizen’s Bank Foundation earlier this month for one such program.

The funds will support Congreso’s Learn and Work program, a three-year-old lecture program that works to teach students about the realities of life outside of school and how to overcome obstacles to succeed in society.

“This is for students that are at that critical juncture,” said Lisa Varon, vice president of Congreso’s education and workforce services. She spoke during a session of the Learn and Work program held Wednesday, May 25 at Edison High School at 151 W. Luzerne St.

Varon said the program works with both students at Edison and those involved in Congreso’s E3 Center, which includes students who might have dropped out of school and are working to obtain their GED.

Varon said that Learn and Work, by bringing in professionals from all walks of life to detail their work experience with students, helps show that everyone runs into twists and turns along the road of life, but they can be overcome.

For example, during last week’s program, two representatives from Wells Fargo — Luz Ivette Lopez, a store manager officer, and Radhames Abreu, a personal banker — discussed the winding roads that led them to where they are today.

Abreu told the class about how he was raised by his grandparents in Puerto Rico after his parents separated. In school, he struggled with anger issues and admitted that he wasn’t a perfect student.

But he learned to speak English, and after high school, he got a job as an English teacher. Later, after another business opportunity fell through, he found a job at the bank.

Lopez’s life story also had its obstacles, and her career success deeply impacted students.

In fact, during the class, one student, Marina Ruiz, 18, broke into tears and hugged Lopez in the middle of the room.

“I dropped out of school too,” said Ruiz. “It’s hard, you know? I’m doing it on my own. But this is inspiring. If she can do it, I can do it.”

Along with discussing their career paths, the Wells Fargo representatives also have students tips on how to save for the future and to keep out of credit debt by managing funds.

At the end of last week’s program, Rafael Arismendi, business development director of children and youth services at Congreso, told students that they have the potential to be what they want, as long as they are willing to put in the same effort the speakers had.

“Life happens, things happen, but you have to get through the struggle if you’re going to get there,” said Arismendi. “It shows that no matter your station in life, you can do it, if you don’t give up.”

For more information on Congreso de Latinos Unidos or the programs they offer, visit the group’s website at www.congreso.net.

Star Staff Reporter Hayden Mitman can be contacted at 215–354–3124 or hmitman@bsmphilly.com.