ATLANTA — What started out as an idea scrawled on a fast food napkin 10 years ago has evolved into an after-school program for Georgia Hispanic students boasting a 100% high school graduation rate.
The Hispanic Organization Promoting Education (HoPe) is the brainchild of David Araya and Angela Hurtado. They were both Georgia undocumented high school students who fought against stereotypes and were resolved to rise above it and succeed. In 2009, when the now-married couple attended college, they were determined to find a way to empower young Hispanic students.
They wrote down the word “HOPE” during a brainstorming session. A decade later, their organization has propelled more than 6,000 teens to graduate from high school. They currently have about 3,500 students in 60 Georgia high schools.
“It’s a very unique style where we provide youth the opportunity to be leaders and trailblazers and changemakers in the community,” Araya said. HoPe’s model is to recruit four outstanding students from each high school and train them to be “remarkable leaders.” Those students go back to their schools and lead the after-school program.
“It allows students to have this sense of connection with someone who looks like them, talks like them, is just like them. It gives each member a sense of identity and purpose. It gives them an intrinsic desire to succeed,” he said.
HoPe’s leadership model brings out the best in students and encourages them to do the same with others, Hurtado said.
“What it means to me is being able to look into an individual and help them see who they are and unleash the best version of themselves,” she said.
Student success stories
One of HoPe’s standout leaders is Elisa Lara. She’s the president of the HoPE chapter at Lakeside High School, and the president of her senior class. School administrators credit her with transforming Lakeside High from the inside out, Araya said.
HoPe “changed me a lot,” Lara said. “I was a person who wasn’t very proud of my culture and where I came from, because I thought it was just an obstacle. HoPe showed me that obstacle is what makes me stronger and that my native tongue is the way I tell my story.”
She says HoPe has been “life-changing,” especially for Hispanic students who feel as if they don’t have the same opportunities as everyone else. “The kids at my school know if you join HoPe, we’ll always be a family no matter where you come from, what you look like or what language you speak.” She will be attending her dream school, the University of Georgia, in the fall.
Nicholas Salazar, a senior at Mountain View High School, says being a member of HoPe is one of the best experiences he’s ever had. In addition to what he calls its family-like atmosphere, he says it’s helped him create opportunities for himself. “I’m networking every time I go to events. My parents see that I’m more on top of my game when it comes to college,” he said.
The chair of HoPe’s board of directors says HoPe’s success is based on the concept of “paying it forward.”
“HoPe alumni are an integral part of the organization,” Roger Trueba said. “The previous members, when they go off to college, come back as graduation coaches. These coaches are peers, in a sense, so they can relate. And they’ve just gone through the same process. We have students in Ivy League and top-tier universities giving up their time to make sure other students have the same opportunity to succeed like they did.”
HoPE gives its members guidelines on how to successfully navigate high school and helps them with the college application process and scholarship information.
One of HoPe’s success stories is Paul Serrato. He graduated from Stanford University in spring 2019 and plans to finish his master’s degree there before pursuing a career in medicine/policy. He was one of HoPe’s founding leaders at Apalachee High School.
Serrato wrote on HoPe’s Instagram page, “HoPe expanded my support network beyond that of my local community while I was in high school … it gave me the opportunity to become a game changer at our school and help build a new organizational culture.”
His advice to current HoPe members is: “If pursuing a higher education is your goal, as insurmountable as it may first seem, recognize that who you are today and how you’re spending your time right now is what is going to add MEANING to the moment when you finally accomplish your goal.”
HoPe now has concrete plans to expand into Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee. But it doesn’t end there. Araya and Hurtado have the goal of reaching 100,000 students in 1,000 high schools across the country by 2030.
Lara says she’s been inspired by their legacy.
“One of the big messages that David and the staff put forward is, ‘What are you leaving behind? How are you inspiring people to become the best version of themselves? And how are you helping them become that?’” she said.
Her answer is to pursue a career in orthodontics to provide reduced-price dentistry to underserved Hispanic communities.