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Community Connection 

Amiguitos: opening access for all youth

Nancy Gonzalez bravely navigating the Deschutes River. - K.M. COLLINS
  • K.M. Collins
  • Nancy Gonzalez bravely navigating the Deschutes River.

Milagros Aparicio greets children and their parents with a smile and a hug as they arrive at Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe for their first paddle lesson. The kids, ages 8-14, are quiet, wide-eyed and nervously inspecting foreign gear that are boats, paddles and dry bags. They may not fully understand the transformative experience that will soon become reality, but they are brave for showing up nonetheless.

As the instructor progresses the lesson, it is not clear which students have received scholarships from The Bend Paddle Trail Alliance. Loading and launching kayaks from the dock, all of the kids express enthusiasm through playful fits of giggles, while splashing and jumping in the cool water. Playtime aside, by the end of the session they have all improved their paddling abilities drastically. Instructors and students congratulate one another and agree they are looking forward to next week's lesson.

As the Client Services Coordinator at the Latino Community Association, Aparicio has worked tirelessly to partner with private businesses, recreation-based and otherwise, to create opportunities for the children of her community. Besides Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe, Bend Park & Recreation, KPOV High Desert Community Radio, Deschutes County Library, High Desert Museum, The Environmental Center, Second Street Theater, Cascades School of Music and The Tower Theatre have all stepped up to give sliding scale pricing, scholarships or free lessons to LCA youth.

Many of the partnerships happen during a four to five-week window in the summer as part of the Amiguitos program (Aprisio's brainchild). Volunteer youth leaders and interns provide supervision during structured activities for kids ages 7 to 13.

Bruce Morris, KPOV programming and development director notes, "KPOV was delighted to host the Amiguitos youth program in our studios last summer. LCA provides critical services to valuable members of our community, including many of our young people. KPOV is proud to contribute to LCA's work by offering local youth the opportunity to experience a taste of radio, learn a little about how it works behind the scenes and have some fun recording and tinkering with the audio of their voices. The kids had a lot of fun and so did KPOV."

Estrella Aparicio (far left) waits with her paddle classmates to depart for a rafting excursion. - K.M. COLLINS
  • K.M. Collins
  • Estrella Aparicio (far left) waits with her paddle classmates to depart for a rafting excursion.

"Bend Park and Recreation District's partnership with LCA and the Amiguitos program helps us connect with the community and create more opportunities to provide access to a wide variety of recreation programs," said Sue Boettner, Recreation Services Manager. "Working together, we can build trust and increase access to recreation programs and services and break down barriers to reach the underserved community in Bend."

These partnerships mean a lot to public and private agencies as well as to families that might not otherwise have access to the experience being provided.

Aparicio, herself a parent of two of the paddle lesson participants said, "I saw value in paddling for my kids. I want them to have as much opportunity and experience as possible in life. Neither my husband or I know how to swim — I don't want them to grow up as we did."

Regarding their experiences in the paddle lessons, Aparicio's children both gave it a thumbs-up. In a thank you letter, fourth grader Estrella Aparicio said, "Dear Tumalo Creek, thank you for teaching me how to paddle board. I had lots of fun whitewater rafting. When I got dunked in the water, it was really cold, but, I enjoyed it!"

Another fourth-grade participant, Nancy Gonzalez, said in her note, "I loved it. Without this class I would have never learned how to kayak."

"A couple years ago," explains Geoff Frank, owner of Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe, "while I was hosting a new employee orientation, I had a conversation with two young men that were going to be working for us. During the conversation, when I asked them if either had paddled or enjoyed paddling, they replied that they had never had the opportunity. These young men happened to be Latino." Frank added, "Our mission to share the experience and open up access to those in our community that do not have the opportunity is very important to us,"

Are you a community-based organization that wants to partner with the Latino Community Association to open access to youth? Please contact Aparicio at 541.382.4366.

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