A group of Sugar-Salem High School students has created the Upper Valley’s first Future Hispanic Leaders of America organization.
Made up of seven youth and guided by English teacher Lisa McKee, the group formed in February. They did so to help Hispanic youth and to support the community. Since organizing, the youths have raised more than $3,000 for the Kershaw Elementary School’s playground equipment. They have also gathered 2,000 pairs of shoes for the Search and Rescue Africa organization.
“We’re just trying to teach people about the Hispanic culture and to do as much service as we can for the community. It’s to put our names out there,” said Alexis Arreola who is serving as the president of the group. He will be a senior next year.
Eddie Tafoia is serving as FHLA’s vice president and will also be a senior next year.
“This is a brand new club. We’re trying to help and grow this club and to have this grow in other places,” he said.
The youth are very aware of the racial tensions across the United States, and they’re not naïve to prejudices against Hispanics. They experienced some as grade school children but believe that may have been a result of a language barrier at the time. The boys speak fluent Spanish and both sets of parents emigrated from Mexico decades ago.
Today, the boys don’t feel discriminated against in Sugar City.
“In other places they are having hard times with race, but around here not really,” said Tafoia.
“Around here it’s a really good community,” said Arreola.
The group is more concerned about giving back rather than in complaining in hopes of changing perceptions of Hispanic people. They noted how happy Kershaw Elementary officials were after they received the club’s donation for the school’s playground. The school needed to raise $50,000.
“They were kind of speechless and mind blown. They’re getting a new playground, so they were really excited about (the donation),” Arreola said.
Arreola and Tafoia said they were shocked they raised so much money after scrambling to put together a Cinco de Mayo celebration to raise the money.
“We only had two weeks to plan it,” Arreola said. “We pulled it off pretty good.”
As both boys attended Kershaw, raising the money for Kershaw’s Elementary Schools playground was a way for them to pay it forward. The boys noted how generous Kershaw students were in later donating used shoes toward the Search and Rescue Africa shoe drive.
Kershaw and Central elementary schools held a contest to see who could provide the most used shoes to the FHLA club. FHLA gave the person who brought the most shoes a Fitbit, and the class that brought in the most shoes received a pizza party.
The shoes will be given to the Angel Bins organization that sells the shoes to another organization that provides the shoes to needy countries. The money generated from the sale of the shoes goes toward building shelters for sex traffic victims in Africa, McKee said.
McKee says Hispanic youth learn leadership skills when organizing fundraisers.
“It shows everyone what they’re capable of, and that they can do a lot of good in the community,” she said.
There are about 60 Hispanic youth in the Sugar-Salem School District. Plans call to start a FHLA Club in the Sugar-Salem Junior High School next year.
“By the time they get into actual high school, they’ll have experience with the club,” Arreola said.
The club’s goal is to lower the dropout rate among Hispanic youth and to encourage them to seek higher education. Arreola hopes to become a nuclear engineer while Tafoia wants to study graphic design in Japan.
The club also hopes to help Hispanics to become more involved in school and community activities. It also wants to motivate the youth to reach their maximum potential. The club hopes to promote unity within the school and community and to promote Hispanic culture. The club also wants to encourage awareness of the consequences of alcohol and substance abuse.
The hope for the 2021-2022 school year is to have more youth join the club. It is open to any student of any ethnicity.
“For next year our plans are to get more people to join,” Arreola said.
McKee says that she is very proud of her FHLA club students.
“We want to help bring the Hispanic community and regular community together,” she said. “We want to show what is different, what there is to celebrate about the Hispanic culture, and where we can find common ground. I just love working these guys. It couldn’t be a better job for me. I may not be Hispanic, but they are definitely in my heart.”
For more information on the FHLA club contact Sugar-Salem High School at 208-356-0274.