In our most recent Journal of Change issue, we feature six leaders who are making a difference in community health in Philadelphia and across our region. These dynamic individuals were named Future Leaders because although each one has a unique cause, they all share a dedication to the people and communities they serve. Over the next few months, we’ll be interviewing each leader to find out more about their passion, their vision, and their impact.
Empowering Latino Youth
Our first featured leader is Yaneli Arizmendi. Yaneli first came to Philadelphia in 2013, by way of Chicago, after being accepted into the nursing program at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to her graduation in 2017, she applied to the Independence Blue Cross Foundation’s nurse internship program. She was readily accepted and placed at Puentes De Salud, one of the health center partners of the Foundation. It was here at Puentes De Salud, that the idea of Lanzando Líderes, an afterschool youth leadership development program for Latino high school students, first took shape.
IBC Foundation: What is Lanzando Líderes?
Yaneli: We are an afterschool program focused on youth leadership. Twice a week, participants from different high schools across the city (mostly South Philadelphia) meet. The program focuses on the students achieving their academic, professional, and personal goals. Through the program, they get direct tutoring to make sure they are meeting their academic goals, and access to a series of workshops focused on leadership and college preparation.
IBC Foundation: How did the idea of Lanzando Líderes first take shape?
Yaneli: I remember it was one evening when my friend and I were doing some work at a coffee shop. We were walking down to South Street and I remember passing Puentes when we got an email reminder of the President’s Engagement Prize. My friend was talking about working at an afterschool program so we had the idea to use the engagement prize to help the afterschool program. Everything just came together that next week when we found a mentor to support the program. We had all worked at Puentes in different capacities.
IBC Foundation: What attracted you to the work that you are doing now?
Yaneli: We recognized there was a need. Although a similar program already exists in South Philadelphia, it only serves students up until sixth grade. Many of the graduates from that program were coming back with bigger questions around things like college. Being a part of the center was a good inspiration given the way that they operate and the way that they work. It was a good place to recognize that the approach had to be holistic to have an impact.
IBC Foundation: What was your nurse internship with Independence Blue Cross like?
Yaneli: Amazing. I was very blessed by that experience. My time at Puentes De Salud was a holistic experience in working to support the triage of the clinic. It brought a lot of my passions together, specifically working with the kids and patients directly. I was able to get a lot of independent experience because the nurse there was just so supportive. I was able to work directly with the little kids and really see the beginning of where health and education can be a huge marker of your future. I was also able to work with Independence Blue Cross to develop important professional skills and development through their workshops at their center city headquarters.
IBC Foundation: What does being named a Future Leader by the IBC Foundation mean to you?
Yaneli: It is such a huge honor and so humbling to be included in the ranks of other leaders.
IBC Foundation: What are some important skills and experiences you have that help to make Lanzando Líderes successful?
Yaneli: Community work and communication have really been my passion. When I was connecting with the community, it was important for me to build relationships. What really helped with the program was already having a small network in the community to be able to promote it. Things like knowing where churches and the most trafficked stores were and what times would be best to do outreach was helpful. I enjoy getting to know people rather than just promoting something.
IBC Foundation: What is the most important thing for people to know about Lanzando Líderes and the people you serve?
Yaneli: These students need more than just leadership. We need a village to really make a change in America. Many of these children, and even their parents, feel isolated, and it is challenging to address because the process doesn’t come with a manual. The challenges they face at the school level, at the community level, and at the personal level are huge. The need is a lot greater than we know. A strong change is needed to make a holistic impact.