Lexington’s Grassroots Leadership Program helps build new community leaders

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (Nebraska) – With a large Hispanic and Latino population in Lexington, local Hispanic and Latino officials have partnered with their community to increase community engagement.

The Grassroots Leadership Program was reintroduced to the Lexington community this year after nearly 20 years by Rocio Casanova and Jennifer Norton of the Lexington Public Library and Patricia Stewart of the After School Program in Lexington Public Schools.

In the fall of 2022, they began recruiting Lexington High School seniors and adults in the Lexington community to learn leadership qualities from current Hispanic and Latino officials near the Lexington area.

Program leaders cited the importance of reviving the program due to a lack of community involvement from Hispanics and Latinos, who make up over 50 percent of Lexington’s population.

“We asked why there wasn’t much involvement in the schools and in the city,” Casanova said. “Being a huge Hispanic community in Lexington, they told us they didn’t know how.”

The program ran for ten weeks and met every Tuesday from 6-9pm starting in September 2022. Members were visited by community members such as school officials, principals, city judges, county clerks, and a commissioner of county to learn about their leadership and life experiences.

Upon completion of the program, students and adults who completed the program had the opportunity to attend the 2023 US Hispanic Leadership Institute Conference in Chicago.

Sebastian Dones, a senior at Lexington High School, was one of seven Lexington students who made the trip to Chicago. He said hearing the life stories of some of the speakers really motivated him.

“It was crazy to hear how they came from nothing and turned it into something,” Dones said. “Because they worked hard, they believed what they believed, and they never disowned their Hispanic heritage.”

In all, eight students and 11 adults completed the 10-week program and seven students and seven adults were able to attend the Chicago conference.

On March 14, the group, calling themselves “El Camino,” will meet again and discuss next steps to continue their community involvement and take the group to the next level.

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