While summer camp may appear to be a standard practice for all children outside the school year, not everyone is afforded the same opportunities. In response to local need, Metropolitan State University of Denver students in the university’s Journey Through Our Heritage (JTOH) program are giving back to the community via the Jaguar Leadership Club.
The club engages members in summer activities that promote leadership skills and encourages the beautification of their neighborhood while advocating cultural heritage and civic stewardship.
Coordinated by JTOH Coordinator Renee Fajardo, the Jaguar Leadership Club was established in 2011 based on a request from Denver City Council member Judy Montero (District 9) to offer youth constructive activities that address graffiti and other issues in the La Alma and Lincoln Park neighborhoods.
JTOH is a multicultural educational program of MSU Denver’s Department of Chicana/Chicano Studies and Department of African/African American Studies that fosters intercultural leadership among metro Denver high school students by uniting them with MSU Denver student mentors.
Club members enjoy a well-rounded activity schedule including talking circles led by MSU Denver student mentors. Activities include Aztec dancing, mural painting, poetry, swimming and gardening.
The planting of marigolds, a seasonally abundant flower found in Mexico, is culturally symbolic of Dia de Los Muertos and an example of their commitment to educate children about history, ancestry and other traditions that might otherwise be forgotten or not focused on as a result of integration.
The community commitment is evident as many Jaguars return after previous program participation, growing the club from 34 students ranging in ages from four to 13 in 2012 to 44 members this year.
“Kids see themselves as growing up to have power,” says Fajardo. “After three years…they’re taking ownership of their neighborhoods” and talking about solving problems in the community.
In celebration of the club’s third year, the Jaguar Leadership Club will host a community pizza party with live music and demonstrations from Jaguar students on July 11 from noon to 2:30 p.m. at the La Alma Recreation Center.
This free public event sponsored by Montero’s office, Denver Arts and Venues, Colorado Folk Arts Council, MSU Denver Chicana/o Studies Department -Journey Through Our Heritage, Dean Sanchez and Denver Parks & Recreation.