Children of Little Village Receive a Big Investment in their Future
La Semilla, New Life Centers’ thriving after-school program, means “the seed.” That name is certainly apt for Jasmine Valdez. In 2001, she was one of the first children to enroll in the program. Now, in the full circle of a seed that is nurtured, grows, and sows further seeds, she is the director of the La Semilla program.
“This is my dream job, to be giving back to the organization and direct the program that meant so much to my life,” said Valdez.
La Semilla serves first through eighth grade students and their families in Chicago’s Little Village community. The program provides homework help, daily nutritious meals, healthy alternatives to deter youth from violence, a network of caring adults who help youth navigate resources, and life skills through mentorship, access to physical education, and supportive family resources.
A $100,000 grant from We Raise in 2019 empowered La Semilla to increase operating from three afternoons a week to five, extend programming into the summer months, hire two additional instructors, and purchase needed program supplies.
Many children in Little Village encounter poverty, language barriers, gang pressure, a poor educational system and other hardships. Only 52% of adults in the neighborhood hold a high school diploma or equivalent and only 6% hold a four-year college degree or higher.
La Semilla seeks to instill a sense of community in their youth, help them feel a sense of pride in their neighborhood and inspire them to envision a bright future for themselves. As they learn new skills, they feel competent and capable; and as they collaborate with peers, they build positive relationships and pro-social skills.
One of the children in La Semilla is Miguel. When he started the after-school program a couple of years ago, he enjoyed reading and working independently, but his family was concerned that he was not receiving enough social interaction at school.
“We noticed he had a difficult time sharing and connecting with other students,” Valdez explained.
Miguel requested to have his best friend join in on his tutoring sessions. La Semilla staff understood his position and worked to make him as comfortable as possible. His increase in social skills helped him academically and he made the Honor Roll with A’s and B’s on his report card for the first time.
“He’s definitely more confident and comfortable now,” said Valdez. “He has developed a good group of friends, and I love seeing his silly self come out.”
“The support La Semilla has received from We Raise has been a huge blessing,” said Matt DeMateo, executive director of New Life Centers. “Two years ago we were at risk of ceasing La Semilla programming due to lack of funding and shifts in leadership. Through our partnership with We Raise, we have been able to build a more sustainable future for La Semilla.”
Thanks to compassionate We Raise donors and the dedication of the La Semilla team, students at New Life Centers can continue to learn, grow, and plant seeds for thriving futures.