Susan Marchand Higgins is a Youthprise volunteer. She grew up in Massachusetts and lived mostly on the coasts before moving to Minneapolis three years ago. As a long-time volunteer for educational and civic organizations, the activism of the Twin Cities encourages her. With her children grown, she plans to focus on writing (in between walking her dogs) and share inspiring stories.
Serving the Twin Cities since 1987, La Oportunidad’s mission is to champion the development of Latino individuals and families to create a strong, peaceful community. Our ultimate goal is to close the achievement gap and to break the cycle of poverty and violence.
“Sometimes you want to go Where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.”
The theme song from the thirty-year-old television comedy Cheers holds a truth for everyone everywhere. We crave familiar welcoming places. Leaving home, even for a better opportunity, can make you lonely and homesick. America, for all its promise and potential, intimidates. It was true for my great-grandfather who left Canada at sixteen, for my great-grandmother when she sailed from Ireland and for all who venture to America no matter where they hail from. A language barrier exacerbates this.
La Oportunidad, which started half way through Cheers’ run on television, knows the importance of belonging to a community. The mission of La Oportunidad – Opportunity—to strengthen the development of individuals and families to create a strong peaceful community recognizes that individuals and families are the building blocks of community. Its programs focus on children, parents and young professionals so they can become life-long assets to the community. This continuous support allows these Latino immigrants and their families to make the most of their opportunities in their new home.
One of the program participants, Reyna, spoke of feeling welcomed every time she arrives. This fifty-something recent transplant to the Twin Cities can relate. It also made me think of the Cheers theme and how nice it is to go when people know who you are. As one who has spent much of her life moving and adapting to new communities, it takes time and effort to feel like you belong in a new community.
Reyna’s story shows how early, sustained involvement pays dividends. She started in the fifth grade in the Latino Youth Program, then joined the Líderes del Mañana (Leaders of Tomorrow) Mentor Program and participated in it for five years. She continued in high school by becoming involved in the Youth Planning Committee for the Annual Latino Youth Peace and Leadership Conference. Since graduation she has given back as a volunteer, intern and mentor helping with the Leadership Conference as well as working as an assistant with numerous school groups with the El Camino and Latino Youth Programs.
Her involvement with La Oportunidad educated Reyna in many ways. She learned about her culture and developed communication skills. As a member of the planning committee, she organized a large event. The computer and office skills she acquired in her internship proved helpful in college and at work.
Reyna remains involved because she likes the youth programming and giving back to her community. She wants to graduate from college and work in a job where she can help others, perhaps in law enforcement. She wants to empower others and improve her community, especially the immigrant and cultural communities whose voices often go unheard.
La Oportunidad builds a strong community through its programs so people can strive and succeed as individuals, resulting in a stronger Latino community. This recognizes that empowered individuals build effective communities. It all starts when you can “go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.”