Workshop encourages Latino students to be leaders

Photos by Daniel Vasta/The Herald
Jasper High School sophomore Janelle Matute, left, listens as German American Bank Executive Assistant Evelyn Rivas shares her story during a Latino Students Workshop hosted at the school on Friday. 


JASPER — English and Spanish filled the community room at Jasper High School Friday as 80 Latino students from Southridge and Jasper high school socialized.

The students — representing Southridge’s Latino Advocacy Group and Jasper High School’s Youth Latinos Unidos — were gathered for the second Building Confidence Workshop, a daylong initiative that focuses on students and came out of discussions in the Latino Collaboration Table.

The Latino Collaboration Table is an informal group that formed to address the needs of local companies, schools and the Latino community. One of the needs that came out of the conversation was a student-focused workshop that could show Latino students what the community has to offer them.

This year, the students heard from several speakers, including Latino community members and representatives from Vincennes University Jasper Campus and local businesses. Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide and Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner also spoke.

The theme for the day was being comfortable as yourself and using what you’re good at to reach your goals.

Jasper High School juniors Ebanie Gamez Daugherty, left, and Jackelin Padilla-Silva share a laugh between presentations during a Building Confidence Workshop hosted at the school on Friday.

The students seemed to get the message.

“I’ve learned a lot about succeeding with your dreams,” Jasper freshman Thalia Hernandez said.

Hernandez’s favorite speaker was Evelyn Rivas, president of the Asociación Latinoamericana del Sur de Indiana, or the Association of Latin Americans in Southern Indiana, and an executive assistant at German American Bank.

During her speech, Rivas shared her journey from being a shy, quiet high school student to a confident leader — a journey that included many instances of vulnerability and stepping outside her comfort zone so she could grow. Her parents, Rivas said, were a huge inspiration for her, teaching her the importance of working hard and embracing the opportunities the U.S. has to offer while still remembering their roots. She reminded the high school students that their parents had the courage to leave everything behind to come to the U.S. and offer their children a better life.

“If your parents can take that act of courage, why wouldn’t you be able to step out of your comfort zone?” Rivas asked.

The day also offered the students an opportunity to build relationships between the two schools and be surrounded by others who understand the struggles immigrant families face. That’s the part of the day that brought Jasper High School junior Deisy Sandoval back to the workshop. She attended last year’s, too.

Jasper High School junior Brian Elizarraras asks a question for Jasper Police officer Martin Loya during a Building Confidence Workshop hosted at the school on Friday. 

When asked if she thought the community at large understood what it’s like to be a immigrant family, she said she thinks “they do and they don’t.”

“They try to, and I appreciate that,” she said. “But nobody knows what someone’s been through until they’ve been [there].”

She added that the Latino population most needs support from the community as a whole.

Southridge senior Jonathon Escobar said he sees that support coming.

“I think there’s a lot of work left to do,” he said. “But I think we are coming together.”

The students will be the next wave in charge of bringing the community together, and part of the day’s purpose was giving them tools to be leaders. Angel Serrano, owner of  La Frontera Haircuts in Jasper and a speaker for the event, assured the students that as long as they take advantage of the opportunities afforded them, they will be successful.

“You guys are living the dream,” he said. “This country is great.”

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