by Marisol Rodríguez
This summer, youth, ages 14 to 24, are using their skills to contribute to the maintenance of Paseo Boricua through work in the areas of community beautification, cultural development, economic development, and participatory democracy.
Through funding from Mayor Daley’s Youth Ready Chicago Summer Program, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School (PACHS) designed this summer’s youth employment program to reflect the vision of the high school since its inception, community building in the Puerto Rican community, said Program Director and PACHS principal Matthew Rodríguez.
While youth have worked in the Humboldt Park community in the past, this summer the program has placed a significant number of youth workers at businesses. “It’s our first attempt to help the businesses in the community to engage in the process of passing down their skills and traditions of their specialties to the students,” said Summer Program Coordinator Lourdes Lugo. Having students learn the value of cleanliness and the effort it takes to maintain a business is another important goal of the program, added Lugo.
From June 29 to August 7, Humboldt Park residents will be able to spot youth workers at restaurants such as La Bruquena, La Plena and Latin American. Tony Muñiz, co-owner of Nellie’s, said youth have been responsible for helping greet customers and washing dishes, among other tasks. Muñiz pointed out that the summer employment program is a teaching experience for both youth employees and business employers. “For a lot of them, this is their first job,” said Muñiz. “You learn from them and they learn from you.”
As part of engaging students in participatory democracy work, students have been involved with Humboldt Park No Se Vende, a community initiative to address gentrification in Humboldt Park. For Lincoln Park High School student Carali Caro, 16, working with HPNSV has not only enhanced her understand of the effects of gentrification, but also developed her communication skills through activities such as canvassing. In addition, through learning about the history and struggles of the Puerto Rican community, Caro has found a way to fight stereotypes.
“People think Boricuas are lazy and addicted, but we can show them this is a positive community doing good things,” said Caro.
Having many of the youth work in the same community that they live in and/or attend school in has had its own benefits. “It’s a good idea to have students working in their community because they have a relationship with a lot of the customers already,” said Stan Kustra, owner of Joe’s Hardware Store. D’Angelo Luciano, senior at P.A.C.H.S. and Joe’s Hardware youth employee said he’s learned a lot of useful skills at the business that he can take with him to make repairs in his own home. Luciano also feels satisfied to be spending his summer working on Paseo Boricua. “It makes me feel proud to be able to work in between the flags,” he said.