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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Activist’s workshop aims to inspire Hispanic youth

As Published in the Record Journal Saturday August 7, 2010

By Samaia Hernandez
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2266

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WALLINGFORD — His activism helped save the town’s annual fireworks celebration at the 11th hour, but can Jason Zandri inspire civic participation in Hispanic youth?

He gave it a try Friday at the Spanish Community of Wallingford, discussing topics such as voter turnout and grass-roots activism, like the kind that occurred during the debate over the town-owned Wooding-Caplan parcel.

Nearly 40 middle and high school students attended the lecture Friday as part of the Adelante America leadership program, which sponsors weekly educational lectures and activities for Hispanic youth in Wallingford. The program is sponsored by a grant from AT&T’s educational initiative and is administered through the League of United Latin American Citizens. It aims to help lower the high school dropout rate among Latino youth by exposing students to post secondary ideas and concepts.

The program, hosted by SCOW, is set to end in August. Maria F. Harlow, the agency’s director, is hoping to gain funding for next year to keep it going yearlong.

“It’s supposed to be for the kids that are at risk,” Harlow said, “But we have many kids who are motivated already. ... We’re looking for role models to bring here to talk to them and inspire them about what to do with their lives.”

Zandri’s visit is also a way of leading by example.

He gave a presentation on technology to the group last month, but was originally connected with the agency after hearing about its renovation under Harlow, who took over this year after serving as chairwoman of the board.

“He sent an e-mail and said, ‘How can I help?’ ” Harlow said.

Zandri, a senior technology account manager for Microsoft, put his expertise to work and upgraded all 12 computers at the center. He also unlocked a blocked computer and fixed a wireless router thought to be permanently broken.

“Now people can come to the center. If they have their own computer, they can connect on a laptop,” Zandri said.

Friday, however, was focused on community involvement, one of Zandri’s passions outside of work. “I take issue with a lack of civic involvement,” he said. Valencia Mendoza, 16, a Wallingford resident and Wilcox Technical High School junior, said this summer’s program is much more entertaining that last year’s, which was halted halfway into the summer due to lack of participation.

“This year is better. We’ve been going on field trips a lot,” Mendoza said. Meeting people in the community including engineers and members of the armed services has piqued her interest the most.

“Now I know that there’s so much more out there,” she said.

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