You see them working to get the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds ready for the annual fair.
They’re at Garrison Middle School at nights, caring for and tutoring children whose parents are there to learn English.
They’re in local parades and add their energy and volunteer spirit to myriad other community events.
They are the members of Walla Walla High School’s Latino Club.
It’s as much a social club as it is an outlet to perform community service. And the more than 150 members know their exuberance can give them a leg up on getting into colleges of their choice and experience to put on their résumés.
“You need 40 hours of community service to graduate [from Wa-Hi]” said senior Brenda Lopez, current Latino Club president. “I had so many activities in my freshman year I already had 50 hours.”
Like many other special interest clubs, the Latino Club has been in existence for quite sometime at Wa-Hi. But nearly a decade ago Bill and Diana Erickson got involved and added to the club’s range and scope of activities in the time Bill has served as advisor.
“It was a social club and we took it beyond a social club,” said Diana, who got involved through her work as bilingual coordinator through the school district.
“We saw a lot of opportunities that were available that nobody was taking advantage of at the time,” said Bill, adding that he thought the club needed more of a focus on developing leadership skills and a focus on college for Latino students.
Lopez is among recent beneficiaries of that vision as she experiences a leadership role as club president and is deciding where to go to college to focus on a pre-med program.
“They encourage you to go to college. And they tell you that you can do it,” she said.
Bill said having a focus on college helps students build a résumé. “With 200-300 hours of community service, that helps with scholarships,” he said.
And the club’s reputation for community service has continued to build.
“People know they can call the Latino Club and get some help with a project,” Diana said.
Organizations needing a project done are asked to make a presentation to pitch their plans to club members
“That validates the kids, they see us as the people to come to,” she said.
Large numbers of students turn out for these community service projects. Preparations and clean up of the fairgrounds for the Walla Walla County Fair and Frontier Days, for example, drew 86 club members. Some also helped set up displays and worked during the annual event.
“They are reliable and they do a good job,” said Judy Frazier, fairgrounds administrative assistant. “They have the leadership and the kids are ambitious and willing to work.”
Wa-Hi senior Minerva Cardenas is among club members who volunteer at the Garrison Night School, an English-as-a-second-language program for adults at the Walla Walla middle school, which provides child care during sessions.
“We help out the little kids. We can teach the alphabet or read to them, or have them read,” Cardenas said. “We can help them with their homework while their parents are learning.”
Like Lopez, Cardenas joined the Latino Club when she was a freshman. The next year she got more involved in helping with the fair.
Among other events club members participate in are Campus Pride Day, Cinco de Mayo, Science Bowl, a conference at WSU and Children’s Day at Washington Park. The club also has a group whose members dress in traditional Latino outfits and represent the club in parades and festivals.
“Some may think that (the club) separates them out, but it’s important to have an identity and be part of that group,” Diana said.
The Ericksons estimate the club has 160-170 members; for an average weekly meeting about 35 will show up. They’re also noticing that more boys are joining the group. The club has guest speakers about once a month and special activities.
It also partners with many area organizations, which helps with developing community networking skills and contacts.
“The number one thing they gain from the club, it really builds their self esteem. They see themselves as valuable. The community sees them as valuable,” Diana said.
They often do well in the application process for higher education and for jobs.
“It’s like a wave building,” said Bill.