Youth Development: It’s the Other Way Around
Diego Uriburu is being honored as a Cesar E. Chavez Champion of Change.
Montgomery County—like many communities across our nation— has changed. Its residents’ average income, level of education, countries of origin, and access to opportunities are very different than in times past. It has become a place where there are only winners or losers; for those who can manage to access the opportunities that exist, their pathway is golden. Those who can't are usually isolated and disadvantaged. Unable to complete their education—and unprepared for the jobs available—they remain disconnected. They are left behind. This is a reality that must be transformed at the community level if our children are to succeed.
Since immigrating to the United States from Argentina, I’ve committed myself to the progress of the Latino community in the county, and I’ve advocated for systemic changes at the policy level with the government, school system, and community leaders. In 1998, when I co-founded Identity, Inc.—a community-based organization in Montgomery County, Maryland—the Latino community was already beginning to migrate from Washington, D.C. to the surrounding suburban counties: a trend that has continued for over 15 years.
Since then, Identity has considerably expanded the scope and reach of its programs in response to an ever-increasing need for services for the steadily growing Latino community. Identity serves a vulnerable population in the county, many of whom have experienced trauma, cultural isolation, and interrupted education, which can be daunting hurdles to overcome. Although they live in one of the nation’s wealthiest areas, Latino youth and their families often struggle with the obstacles of poverty, joblessness, and poor educational outcomes. Working with the community, we can turn these outcomes around.
In addition to its programmatic efforts, Identity spearheaded the Latino Youth Collaborative, a coalition that worked with more than 100 individuals from different sectors (county government, county council, school system, board of education, non-profits, community, etc.) to develop specific recommendations to improve the education, health, and safety of the Latino community, which were endorsed by the County Executive. This effort resulted in the County Executive allocating funds in next year’s budget to develop a youth workforce strategic plan that will include the development of pathways for young people for whom college is not a viable option.
In an effort to improve the academic achievement of Latino youth, Identity has also been successful in securing the commitment of the Superintendent of Schools to jointly develop an educational program model for Latino students. The overall goal is to ensure that these youth receive the foundation necessary to graduate from high and transition to post-secondary education, and the workforce.
I am humbled to be honored with the Champion for Change award, and I am even more humbled by the opportunity life has given me to serve such an incredible and deserving community.
As one of Identity’s values states; to serve others is a privilege and requires excellence. The youth and families we serve inspire us to live that value. I’m in awe of their strength and perseverance; they are our greatest asset in advancing the future of our community. They are the true champions of change, and help us to be the people we want to be, every day.
Diego Uriburu is the Executive Director of Identity, Inc. and also serves on several community groups, including the Latino Youth Collaborative Oversight Group as Co-Chair, Montgomery Moving Forward group as Co-Chair, the Latino Student Academic Achievement Group as a member, and the Latino Public Safety Work Group as a member.