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Alumna Calls Working with At-Risk Youth a Privilege

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Angela Gonzalez

Angela Gonzalez, SIS/MA '06, always thought she was going to go back to El Salvador after completing her master's program, but a casual conversation with a friend from SIS led her down a different but incredibly fulfilling path. While she was in her final semester, Claudia Rodriguez, SIS/MA '06, a fellow International Development graduate, mentioned that a professor at the University of Michigan was looking for a research assistant in DC. The opportunity was for someone to work on a project documenting Salvadorian immigrants' economic experience. Angela pursued the position and found herself carrying out field work trying to answer complex questions. 

Working on different research projects for over two years, Angela realized that she had found her passion, "I loved working on projects that involved research, field work, and community development," she says. Armed with this knowledge she began looking for hands-on jobs that focused on community development. She found a position with Adelante Program, a research intervention group working with at-risk Latino youth in Langley Park, Virginia "and that's how my engagement with the Latin American Youth Centers (LAYC) began," she explains. 

Today Angela works with the Host Homes Program at LAYC's Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers. "I manage a federal grant that provides services for youth who are dealing with homelessness or are at risk for running away in the DMV area," she says. The program "is a very interesting model. It is an emergency shelter for youth who are between the ages of 12-17. But instead of putting them in traditional shelters we recruit host families; we train them and certify them. The idea is to put the youth in a loving and safe environment," she says. While the grant only covers a youth for 21 days, she tells of a young person from Cameroon whose grant ran out but whose host family stepped up and offered to extend his stay. It is incidents like these that give Gonzalez a sense of accomplishment. "I have been really privileged because I get to work on the ground. It's an incredible feeling." she says. 

Angela was most recently back on campus to moderate a panel on "Challenges and Resilience in the Immigrant Community." She left impressed with how confident, articulate, and truly resilient the students were. Looking back at her time at AU, she says she definitely was not so confident as a student. It was at AU that she learned to put the most vulnerable first. "Wait and let them tell you what they need. Be mindful." Those words, she says, are Professor Hirschmann's legacy, one that she carries with her. She is also grateful to AU because, as she puts it, "it gave me my second family. AU opened the world to me."