A little more than a year ago, in June 2019, then-incoming La Quinta High School senior Lizbeth Luevano beat out hundreds of other students to travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in the 2019 R2L NextGen week-long program, organized by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) and sponsored by State Farm. The Independent covered the story of her experience.
This summer, Luevano has earned another honor: She’s one of four Inland Empire students participating in a prestigious, paid internship with Bank of America’s Student Leaders Program. According to a press release, the students will engage in an “experience of leadership, civic engagement and workforce skills-building with local nonprofit OneFuture Coachella Valley. In light of the health concerns that remain in local communities, the program has been adapted to a virtual format. … As part of their Student Leader program, each student will receive a $5,000 stipend.”
The Independent recently spoke by phone with Luevano, and she said the Student Leaders Program has given her a chance to talk to a lot of people she wouldn’t be able to access otherwise.
“Part of the project has been talking to specific community leaders who are local to my area and come from similar underserved backgrounds like mine, and also, talking to other national student leaders who might be from different states,” Luevano said. “This week, we just finished up the young democracy session. I came out of it feeling a lot more knowledgeable about the disparities we see across the nation. I’ve developed more skills to try to provide solutions for those problems. I’ve always been very interested in becoming an immigration-rights lawyer, and I want to practice here in the Coachella Valley. So, for me, it’s important to understand how to recognize those problems and how to be a part of that solution. The community leaders we’ve seen are not necessarily from one sector. We’ve talked to people from the private sector, the nonprofit sector and the for-profit sector—who come from different backgrounds, but are all focused on that one goal of helping society. It’s been amazing how much I’ve learned from every webinar.
“Bank of America has been so good about wanting us to learn more about issues like food insecurity here, but they’re tackling so many different aspects that will help me on my journey. There’s also been the mentorship project that’s teaching us how valuable mentorship opportunities are. … We were talking about how important it is to reach out to people to make connections. That’s how I ended up finding a job that I’ll be going to in August: I’ll be working as a legal assistant to an immigration attorney (Hurwitz Holt) in San Diego. I don’t think I would have been empowered enough to reach out to that immigration attorney if I hadn’t been coached to pursue those kinds of opportunities.”
The students have been working with OneFuture Coachella Valley, a nonprofit that “works to help all students graduate prepared for college, career and life—expanding and enhancing the local workforce so that our youth and economy thrive,” according to the organization’s website.
“Locally, with OneFuture CV, we’re working on a story-making project,” Luevano said. “Essentially, they’re connecting us—myself and three other IE-market student leaders—with community leaders and doing interviews. We’re drawing up articles from those interviews, and we’re sharing them across the social media of OneFuture. So, it’s a campaign to promote OneFuture and to raise awareness about the kind of impact they’re having on the community.”
Luevano and thousands of other Coachella Valley students had the in-person aspects of their senior year of high school cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The virtual (classes) didn’t really work,” Luevano said. “No one was really attending the Zoom meetings with my teachers, so I really felt that I had graduated in March. I didn’t expect I could have a physical graduation, but La Quinta High School did do a drive-through ceremony, which was really nice. We were really rushed through, but it was at least nice to get the photos onstage. It really has been interesting to adjust—and it’s been weird not to have felt that closure. It’s weird to think that I’m already a high school graduate when I haven’t had the chance yet to say goodbye to my teachers or my peers at high school. It’s definitely been difficult—but I definitely have felt a lot of support from the community. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Coachella Valley Adopt a Graduating (2020 High School) Senior program. It was a way for other people in the community to reach out via Facebook to a member of the class of 2020, and celebrate them with gifts and snacks, and things of that nature. That was really nice. But I do wish I’d had a physical graduation.”
After taking a gap year, Luevano will embark on the next chapter of her education when she begins her studies at Stanford University. When we spoke last year, she’d mentioned that in order to “get out of her comfort zone,” she wanted to attend college at either Swarthmore or Bowdoin, which are both East Coast schools. Luevano explained her change of heart.
“It was definitely (a decision) I was struggling with,” she said. “Because of the coronavirus pandemic, I wasn’t able to get on the campus of some of the schools I was admitted to. I was admitted to Bowdoin and Swarthmore, and I was heavily considering them—but I thought that I had to go with my gut, and I think that Stanford is decently far away for me to get uncomfortable enough. It was something I struggled with until the last day.
“My priorities have been shifting (as far as) what I wanted as a college experience, and I felt like maybe a larger student population would be more suited for what I wanted to do.”
Luevano wanted to emphasize how important her involvement with OneFuture CV has been to her growth.
“I’d been part of the Migrant Education Program and already had access to OneFuture CV, even before this Student Leaders program,” she said. “I think the kind of emphasis they place on education as economic development is especially important. One of the general sentiments that I always felt in high school is that a lot of people want to get out of the Coachella Valley. I see it even with some of my friends—a lot of people just want to leave, and they don’t want to come back. As I mentioned, I even wanted to go to the East Coast (for college), because I felt too familiar here. But long term, I do want to come back, and I do want to practice here as a lawyer.
“It’s been very valuable for me that One Future CV promotes this kind of narrative of people who have gone to college—UCLA and all these different schools—and have eventually come back to pursue their careers here. … Students and leaders should not only see those problems, but also be part of the solution of alleviating those problems here. People like Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz, who went to Harvard Medical School—he still came back here to the Coachella Valley. County Supervisor (V. Manuel) Perez went to Harvard as well—and he came back. With what I’m learning as a student leader, I’ll be able to continue those initiatives here with a local nonprofit that has that kind of mission statement. For me, it’s been invaluable and very nurturing.”