Catherine Anaya

The fastest-moving train

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Seven years ago, I did a story for CBS 5 News and Latino Perspectives about AGUILA Youth Leadership Institute (AGUILA). 

The mission of AGUILA: to increase the number of Arizona’s Latino youth getting into college and graduating with a degree. 

The program’s architect Rosemary Ybarra-Hernandez asked me to speak to the group about the importance of higher education. 

That first year, in 2004, I gathered with several dozen high school students in a small room at the Burton Barr Library in Phoenix. 

Rosemary’s enthusiasm and passion were contagious. She was like a mother hen to the students who were ready to make her proud. Every student in that room knew much was expected of them. The highlight for me was watching the eagerness in their faces and hearing in their voices the same enthusiasm and willingness to work hard, knowing full well that education is the key to unlocking the doors to opportunity.

AGUILA has grown by incredible leaps and bounds since then—from 42 students to 257 students today. Four hundred students who stayed with the program entered 55 colleges and universities across the country, including MIT, Brown and USC. Of those 400 students, 42 have earned their degrees, with the remaining on track to graduate; three are in graduate school with 10 preparing to enter graduate studies.

The success is beyond even Rosemary’s wildest dreams. “I have gone through many Kleenex boxes in this job, [from] sheer frustration in dealing with the many barriers that attempt to keep our brilliant people ‘in their place,’ to incredible joy when I receive phone calls, emails, texts and Facebook notices about admission, scholarships, internships and those precious messages of gratitude,” she tells me. 

Rosemary still invites me to speak to AGUILA students about staying the course and working hard to meet their goals. She likes to refer to AGUILA as the “fastest-moving train” in Arizona and I couldn’t agree more. 

Recently, I was honored to be named an inaugural Friend of AGUILA for my commitment and support of its mission. I do so because had my mother not instilled the value of higher education early on, I might not have considered a college degree a possibility or critical to a successful future. 

Many of our Latino youth aren’t so fortunate. It is up to all of us as professionals, community leaders, parents, friends and neighbors to continue supporting AGUILA because, to quote one AGUILA student, “If Arizona expects more, then they need to give us more—more encouragement, more guidance, more trust, more opportunities—and model, truly model for us what it means to be a good person.”

It seems much is expected of us, too.  

Catherine Anaya anchors CBS 5 News weeknights at 5, 5:30, 6 and 10 p.m. She is a mother of two, a marathon runner and a motivational speaker. Reach her at canaya@kpho.com, on Facebook, Twitter and at catherineanaya.com.

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