Recruiting Latino Youth to Attend Overnight Camp
By Mario Magaña, Oregon State University Extension Service
The Oregon Latino Summer Camp provided new opportunities for middle school youth (Grades 6-8) to learn about natural resources, new technology, health issues, and college opportunities, including financial aid. In addition, youth had the opportunity to meet new friends with positive vision and attitudes towards the future, meet professional people who could be a future resource person, and meet other Latino role models from the community. In Oregon, we have held a Latino Camp for three summers averaging 100 participants per camp.
While the Latino summer camps have been successful, recruiting youth to attend an overnight camp has been a big challenge. Oregon Latino youth are facing many challenges, including the lack of support from their own parents due to their parent’s lack of knowledge, inability to speak English, and inability to communicate with their children’s teachers or counselors. For many Latino youth, the option of going to college is not even in their minds. College or a professional career is a topic that has no place in the agendas or in the plans of Latino families. Most of the Latino families have no idea what work-study, scholarships, grants, or loans are.
In addition to these challenges, youth (especially girls) face cultural barriers. Because of the limited educational background of parents, youth have to deal with parental attitudes like: “You need to marry first in order to leave home”; “Why do you need college education if woman are to stay at home and take care of the children?”; “You need to start working and to help support the family”. Parents are afraid that if their kids get a professional education, they could lose control and power over them. They want to keep their children around as much as possible. Latino families are very close; it is very hard for a family to break. They cannot conceive of an 18 year old child alone hours away from them in a different state.
Working with the Latino community is not as easy as many people assume. In order to successfully work with the community you have to create trust and a good reputation. For the majority of Latinos, “4-H” does not mean any thing. I have met thousands of Latinos in the State of Oregon and almost 100% of them had no knowledge, previous contact, or heard about 4-H until the Oregon Latino Outreach program started offering summer camps, computer classes, and sports.
Latino parents are very protective of their children, especially of the young girls. In the Latino community, if you invite one of the parents or one of the family members to an event, people assume that the invitation is for the entire family. Here in the US, if a family invites a child to a birthday party, the understanding is that the invitation is for the child and people do not assume that the invitation was for the whole family. This is confusing to Latinos.
The popular “Overnight Stays” and “Slumber Parties” are not common among the Latino families. Even for second and third generation Latinos, overnight stays and slumber parties are hard to understand. There are traditions and customs that society develops through the years and overnight stays with friends and slumber parties are not part of or acceptable to Latino culture.
These circumstances make it more difficult to work with parents when recruiting youth for camp, and is even harder to work with parents that have young girls. In our camp we tried to recruit 50% boys and 50% girls. In less than two weeks, we had more boys than we could accommodate. Then, we focused on the recruitment of girls. At times, our camp assistants had to work on a one to one basis to convince parents that this was an excellent opportunity for their children; that they were going to be safe; and that they were going to learn about college opportunities, including financial support to continue their education.
Many Latino parents opt to not let their children participate in camps where most of the children are Anglo because of their lack of understanding of the Anglo culture especially in regard to differences in values, manners, and religion. They are afraid that their children might face some type of discrimination or put-downs. To initially ensure Latino participation in a summer camping program, we need to create programs that are culturally appropriate and in a language that is familiar for them.
With a lot of one on one communication with parents and with a culturally aware and respected camp staff, we were able to recruit girls to attend camp. With each passing year, more families become aware of our program, and recruitment is a little easier.