As BCTC wraps up its 9th Latino Leadership and College Experience Camp (LLCEC) this year, the success of the program is evident by the number of former participants volunteering to help new campers find the same support they did.
Campers who first came to LLCEC as reluctant high school students, unsure what they were going to do after high school, are now enrolled in college with the knowledge and support to be successful in their chosen path. This year’s camp had 81 participants, including 36 first-time students, 16 returning students and 29 currently enrolled college students and young professionals.
Marta Valencia is entering her second year as a BCTC student, pursuing her Associate in Arts with plans to transfer to UK. When she first came to camp as an incoming junior at Casey County High School, she didn’t plan on coming to college.
"The first year I didn't want to come. I didn’t know what the camp was for," Valencia said. Part of the camp is dedicated to workshops on searching for colleges and scholarships and helped Valencia realize what her options were. "I didn’t have anyone to go to for that," she said.
There wasn’t a lot of diversity in Valencia’s high school, and the camp gave her an opportunity to connect with people who shared her same story. Now she gets to help others have the same experience.
"It's like looking in a mirror," Valencia said of the new campers. Their evolution from nervous and awkward to a family unit over the course of the week is what has kept Valencia coming back for three years.
Milton Meza is another former camper turned facilitator and BCTC student, heading into his third year at BCTC working towards his Associate in Science and his fourth year at camp.
Meza was excited attending camp his first year, but also nervous about meeting a lot of new people and wondering if they would like him or not. His older sister Alexis had a good experience at LLCEC and told him he’d be fine.
"After the first day I found out all those insecurities didn’t matter," Meza said. "I realized I wasn't alone."
Meza was the only Mexican student in his high school and although he participated in a lot of activities, he always felt like he had something to prove. Hearing stories of successful people who came from similar places was encouraging.
The relationships he developed that first year are still strong as he and other campers participate in other activities during the year through BCTC’s Office of Latino Outreach and Services.
First year camper Michael Loyselle is entering his senior year at Lafayette High School in Lexington. He appreciates the opportunity LLCEC provides to network with college personnel and with other students who are currently in college.
While Loyselle had participated in mock classes and workshops at other colleges, “this is experience, not just information,” he said. “It’s understanding what college life is day to day.”
Learning more about the financial aspects of higher education has relieved some stress for Loyselle. And staying in a dorm and having to get up for classes means he isn’t as intimidated by his freshmen year of college. “I can think past that now,” he said.
Rachel Howard, another first year camper, is entering her junior year at Glasgow High School.
When her mother recommended applying for LLCEC, she thought it sounded like fun. After her application was accepted, she started to realize what a difference the camp could make in her life.
“I didn’t realize how big a deal this was for me. It’s helping me get ready for college and the real world after high school,” Howard said. “I’ve learned about getting into college and how to pay for it. I’ve also been able to narrow my career choices.”
“It’s inspiring because the volunteers were in our shoes and they’ve made it. This camp has helped them to get where they are.”
The camp started in 2006 with 14 students. Eleven of those students have completed at least an associate degree.
“We created the LLCEC to help empower more Latino, immigrant and ESL students to pursue their dreams of higher education and career readiness. It is incredible to see how the program has developed over the past 9 years. Many of the youth who participated in the 2006 LLCEC have completed college and now, as young professionals returned to mentor and direct the program,” said Erin Howard, Latino Outreach and Student Services Director at BCTC.