Faced with steep budget cuts, nonprofits’ leadership team steps up to save valuable program.

By Special to EGP

Jose Fuentes-Arteaga refused to be another high school dropout statistic. He knew the odds were against him as nearly half (46.8%) of Hispanic youth in the U.S. do not graduate from high school. Bucking the trend, Fuentes-Arteaga enrolled in the AltaMed Escalera Program and found the support and resources he needed. He is currently enrolled at Glendale Community College.

“Escalera was the only program that gave me an opportunity to succeed. They believed in me when my family and counselors didn’t,” Fuentes-Arteaga said.

Jose Fuentes-Arteaga

The program, however, was recently put in danger when the state drastically reduced funding to youth programs as part of its plan to alleviate California’s budget crisis. AltaMed’s Escalera Program was very negatively impacted by those cuts, according to the nonprofit healthcare provider.

Not willing to just sit by and let the program be decimated, AltaMed instead set upon a course of action to make sure kids would still have access to the important resources provided through the Escalera Program.

Determined to save AltaMed’s youth programs, CEO Cástulo de la Rocha and senior leadership put together a team that worked on fundraisers, secured grants and advocated in the legislature to secure $1.9 million, including $866,000 in funds from First 5 LA, for the program, according to the organization.

Fuentes-Arteaga, who now works with AltaMed, is just one of the many local students who have benefited from the college/career preparatory program for at-risk youth.

On June 15, 95% of the participants in the 2011 Escalera Programs graduated, AltaMed announced earlier this month. Of those, 73 students were from the East Los Angeles area, and all 73 graduates have been accepted to college. Together they have received $83,300 in scholarships, the organization said.

“We are extremely proud of all the young people who will be moving on to the next stage in their careers and wish them continued success throughout their college experience. We are equally proud of the AltaMed Escalera staff for their hard work and dedication and for this great accomplishment,” said Diana Hernandez, coordinator of AltaMed’s Escalera Program. “We run the oldest and largest site of the Escalera Program in the United States, our goal is to remain a powerful and effective resource for Latino youth and their families.”

Students are eligible to enroll in the Escalera Program during the second semester of their junior year and must work toward a high school diploma or GED, complete a minimum of 80 hours of internship or other work experience, and start the enrollment process for a postsecondary institution.

For more information on the AltaMed Escalera Program, visit www.altamed.org.


Special to EGP