Rising before dawn on a Saturday morning in late April to board a bus to Albany, 22 high school juniors and seniors from Brentwood, Central Islip, Copiague, East Hampton, Hampton Bays, Huntington, South Huntington, and Southampton demonstrated their enthusiasm to participate in the 16th Annual Angelo Del Toro Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute (PR/HYLI). At that early hour, it was still unknown how successful they would ultimately be in their commitment to represent the Suffolk Latino community in the State capitol.
From April 28th to the May 1st, Eastern Suffolk BOCES Bilingual/ESL Technical Assistance Center (BETAC), along with the Senate/Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, the New York State Education Department, the Board of Education of the City of New York, and Aspira of New York, Inc., cosponsored and coordinated this three-day event. BETAC staff trained more than 25 of our region's Latino students in the months prior to the Institute.
In what has become a perennial highlight of the training sessions, the group was honored by a visit from Assemblyman Phil Ramos, of the 6th Assembly District here in Suffolk. Mr. Ramos spent over an hour and a half discussing both the intricacies of Albany politics as well as two of the bills he had sponsored that the students planned to debate at a Mock Assembly in the actual chambers of the New York State Assembly.
While in Albany, Suffolk's 22 delegates joined with over 150 other high school students for a variety of activities designed to educate them about issues affecting the Latino community as well as to give them first-hand experience in the legislative process.
On Saturday, students participated in leadership workshops and developed skits and performances related to a variety of community concerns.
On Sunday, within the impressive walls of the Assembly Chamber, each participant took on the role and policy positions of a real Assemblyperson and debated Assembly bills currently pending in the legislature. Assembly Ramos also attended this event and spent the entire three hours encouraging and assisting our 22 Suffolk delegates.
In the evening, all participants attended a gala banquet and dance. Not only were they greeted by the leadership of the Senate/Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, but a select few were also awarded $500 scholarships. Of the 20 scholarships awarded that night, four of this year’s recipients hailed from the Eastern Suffolk BOCES BETAC delegation. Congratulations to Central Islip’s Peter Salas, Huntington's Wendy Bermudez and Denisse Torres, and Raúl Cardenas of Southampton! And as if those victories were not enough, East Hampton’s Isabel Saavedra took home the special $2,500 scholarship, thanks to the Hispanic Task Force and HealthPlus, Inc. In Isabel’s words, in between tears of joy, “I never imagined that a dream like this could actually come true.”
On Monday, Eastern Suffolk delegates met to discuss legislative and political issues with six local Assemblymen in their Albany offices.
The pride of this years HYLI delegation at their accomplishments, coupled with their commitment and newfound political awareness, almost assures us that one of them will someday follow in Assemblyman Ramos’ footsteps on the journey to the State legislature. Our region is indeed fortunate to have such talented youth in its midst!