NBC LATINO: After-school programs that change Latino students’ lives receive national award

  Janel Piñeda, 17, giving a public reading in Los Angeles. (Courtesy WriteGirl)

Janel Piñeda, 17, giving a public reading in Los Angeles. (Courtesy WriteGirl)

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NBC Latino | by Kristina Puga, @kristinapuga 7:27 pm on 11/22/2013

On Friday, First Lady Michelle Obama gave 12 after-school programs from across the country the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. The award is the highest honor in the country for programs using the arts and humanities to help youth do better in school, keep them from dropping out, and raise their cultural awareness.

WriteGirl is a creative writing and mentoring organization in Los Angeles that helps teen girls discover and express their creative voices. It enrolls more than 350 teen girls, approximately 49 percent Latina, and many are from immigrant families where English is not the primary language.

Janel Piñeda, 17, of Salvadoran descent, has been a member of WriteGirl for the past three years. She told NBC Latino that the organization changed her life.

“Being involved with this program has turned me into such a confident person,” says Piñeda. “WriteGirl often has public readings. I never thought I’d be able to do something like that, but now it’s become so routine and easy.”

When she graduates high school, she says her goal is to get an MFA in creative writing.

“I’m so glad this program has inspired so many girls and helped them find their voice, and a way to express it creatively,” says Piñeda.

Amber Rodriguez, also 17, is the representing member of the Boston Children’s Chorus receiving the award in Washington.

“It means a lot to be recognized,” says the Puerto Rican singer. “The organization is only 11-years-old. Our leader wanted to see a better Boston, and today a hundred percent of the chorus graduates high school and go to college.”

Founded in 2003, with only 20 children, BCC now has nearly 500 singers in 12 choirs at five Boston locations.

“Being in the chorus has given me a voice, and being a teenager it’s easy to feel you don’t have a voice or can’t make a difference, but being in the chorus, I can see I’m making a difference not only in Boston, but in different communities across the world,” says Rodriguez.

Throughout the years, she says the group has traveled as far away as Jordan, Mexico Japan and Cambodia.