Now in its eighth year, the student lead program is sponsored by students from MSU Denver’s JTOH team (a multicultural educational program under the of the Department of Chicana/Chicano Studies. La Alma Recreation Center. Back in 2011 the Journey Through Our Heritage program was approached by the office of then Denver City Council member Judy Montero who said “The kids in the neighborhood have nothing to do for the summer because there’s no pool. We’d like you to put together a summer program.” Eight years later the whole neighborhood has radically changed. There is a pool, a revamped playground and Skate Park and multimillion-dollar apartment complexes springing up all over downtown. While gentrification has brought many economic benefits to the neighborhood it also brings with it uncertainty.
One thing that remains unchanged is the community’s ties to their beloved recreation center. La Alma is and has been the heartbeat of the neighborhood for decades. La Alma Jaguar Club, thanks to La Alma Recreation Center director Chris Medina, has become a rite of summer for dozens of neighborhood kids. The low-cost three-week program, for youngsters 5-12 years old, kicked off on Monday, June 4 and runs Monday through Thursday from 10-3pm daily until June 22. The cost is $20 per child for all three weeks.
“The purpose is … to engage and enlighten students from the community about their indigenous heritage and stewardship of the Earth and community,” says Dr. Ramon Del Castillo chair of the MSU Department of Chicana/o Studies,” But there’s another purpose as well: “to get them familiar and comfortable and bonded with the Auraria Campus,” he said.
All the club activities, promotional materials, recruitment, programming etc. are provided by from MSU Denver JTOH students, many who volunteer. Numerous other MSU Denver students and high school youth leaders also are employed to help run the program.
Community artists Arlette Lucero has taught a class on murals for the past six years. Other activities include dance with famed Aztec dancers Huitzilopochtli, drawing, crafts, swimming, field trips, science projects, and gardening. One theme is always consistent: leadership and respect. Guadalupe Jaquez a JTOH mentor and junior at MSU Denver is the office manager this season. “ I bring my three-month-old daughter with me to work. I love to see the kids from the neighborhood taking care of each other. My daughter gets to grow up seeing this. Several of our youth leads was a participants when they were just small, now they are helping lead youth. I hope my daughter can follow in my footsteps here one day too!”
On Tuesday, June 19th from 2 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., the community is invited to a public celebration of the program with a free neighborhood party at La Alma Rec Center, with pizza and Aztec Dance by grupo Huitzilopochtli. There will also be demonstrations from Jaguar Club kids, showing off the skills they learned in the leadership club .
Major sponsors of the program include MSU Denver Presidents Office of Diversity and Inclusion, G.I. Forum, My Denver, Su Teatro, La Alma Rec Center and Colorado Folk Arts Council.