As leaders chart a new course for the nation,Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute(CHCI) President and CEO Domenika Lynch reflects on the importance of the near 40-year-old organization and its mission to provide critical educational and leadership opportunities for young Latinos while diversifying government at every level.
Since taking the helm in July, Lynch has been determined to grow CHCI to meet the rising demand for its programs and the needs of the growing Latino population it represents.
“We’re 55 million strong. More Latinos are graduating high school and going to college than ever before,” Lynch said. “We have more seats in Congress, and better representation in government, but we still have work to do.”
CHCI accomplishes its mission by providing a pathway for Latino high school, college students and recent graduates to explore and work in government. TheR2L NextGenprogram brings Latino high school students to Washington, D.C. for a week to learn about government and and use the nation's Capital to as a classroom. The Congressional Internship Program and the Fellowships give college students and young professionals opportunities for hands on experience in public policy, working for elected officials and government agencies.
“Many of our alumni have pursued successful careers in the federal government, capitol hill, non-profit sector, and corporate America,” said Gretchen Class, CHCI’s Director of Corporate Relations. “Others have gone to work with differentfederal agencieslike theDepartment of Educationand the Small Business Administration. Many have returned to their home town to educate, empower and connect their communities by encouraging civic engagement.”
“When you come here and see people who you can identify with working on the hill, you feel like you belong,” said Lynch, who interned for former Attorney General Janet Reno. “It’s such a new experience. You may read about it in the classroom, but after you see it, you think, ‘Maybe I can do this.’”
As a partner to CHCI, Southwest Airlines provides air travel for the students who participate in the organization’s R2L NextGen, internship, and fellowship programs. “For some high school students, it’s their first time on a plane,” Lynch said.
In addition to the programs that bring students to D.C., CHCI also hosts workshops for students in six cities around the country.
“Southwest has been a long-time partner and an amazing one,” Class added. “They’ve brought people to our city, but the support also allows us to go outside of the nation’s capital to talk about what we do.”
Because CHCI’s operations depend on the generosity of donors, the air travel provided by Southwest means other funds raised can be devoted to operating expenses and activities that enhance the student experience.
“Southwest has really impacted the way we function,” said Class. “If it wasn’t for Southwest, we wouldn’t be able to bring as many students to D.C. and support them in their pursuit of their career goals, which they are very passionate about.”
In 2017, Lynch and Class will work on finding additional ways to serve more students beyond bringing them to D.C. Lynch said she has received an uptick in the number of students reaching out to her about getting involved, something the organization’s founders would most certainly be proud of.
“The intent of the founders was forward looking. They understood that if we were going to diversify government and elect leaders that look like their constituents, we need a vehicle.”
“Almost four decades later, the mission is more important than ever.”