Youth Program Coordinato Cindy Camacho

Youth Program Coordinato Cindy Camacho leads discussion on the origins of leadership, with a response from student Jasmin Mateos, during an after-school session of Latino Youth Initiative, at Highland Park High School. (Denys Bucksten, Chicago Tribune / December 9, 2013)

Organizers of Sunday's Posada 2013 at Highland Park High School hope to raise up to $3,000 to aid programs for Latino youths in Highland Park and Highwood.

Family Service is sponsoring the celebration in the cafeteria from 3 to 7 p.m. Admission is $1. It is open to the public and will include a DJ, caroling, food competition, arts and crafts, raffle items, music by Chicago's Folkorico and the traditional breaking of the pinata.

More than a dozen school and community groups are taking part in Posada or donating to the fundraiser, said Gail Hodges, Family Service development director.

The agency offers a variety of social services for all ages that are free or on a sliding scale.

Hodges said Posada proceeds will go mainly toward three after-school programs: The Latino Youth Initiative; Youth Educational Support and Success for Northwood Junior High School students; and Nuestro Center, for grades K-8, in downtown Highwood.

Tom Koulentes, assistant principal at HPHS, said the growing need of the Latino youth programs "is absolutely tremendous. The amount of students who are interested and who are participating grows each year as more students and more parents learn about the support and benefits."

Koulentes pointed to after-school programs like the Nuestro Center, which moved from a Fort Sheridan Place facility to a larger, storefront site in downtown Highwood and is now at full capacity there. "Now we have a waiting list at Nuestro Center and for Latino Youth Initiative, as well," Koulentes said. "These are kids who are in school all day and chose to be in a program for two hours a day after school."

Koulentes said growing awareness is driving the expansion of services. .

"There has never been a lack of willingness on the part of parents in this community to help their children," he said. "Family Service and our school guidance counselors have put a tremendous amount of time into educating families about our support systems and resources, which can benefit their children immediately and long-term," Koulentes said. "Parents now call us and ask for information about our programs."

Latino programs are not only about grades and getting help to attend college, Koulentes said, "It's also learning how to live a healthy life and to be a productive member of a community," he said.

Elsi Rodriguez, Nuestro Center program supervisor, said students, many from Oak Terrace Elementary School, come in from 3 to 4 p.m., usually on school buses, and get a meal from Northern Illinois Food Bank, typically including sandwiches, vegetables, salads and milk. After that, from Monday through Thursday, students are in study groups until 5:30 p.m. On Friday Nuestro Center has programmed "play" activities.