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Monica Hurtado

FRIDAY - DECEMBER 27, 2013 - AMERICAN CANYON, CA - Monica Hurtado has begun the Kinship youth outreach mentorship program for students at Chamberlain High School. The program helps students explore new options and alternatives by sharing their life stories. J.L. Sousa/Register

J.L. Sousa/Register

Monica Hurtado believes everyone has leadership inside them — but not everyone has the opportunity to develop their skills.

Hurtado, 19, recently started a youth group and mentorship program at Chamberlain High School, which serves students on court probation. Hurtado has named the program Kinship.

“It’s about having a sense of connectedness with someone else,” she said.

The youth group will meet every Friday and provides a “safe space” for students to talk about the issues most important to them, Hurtado said. The mentorship program will begin after the holiday break and will pair Chamberlain students with students from Napa Valley College’s Puente program. Puente works to increase the number of first-generation students who transfer to four-year colleges and universities.

“The Puente program really inspired me and pushed me,” Hurtado said.

The benefit of pairing Chamberlain with Puente, she said, is that the students and mentors are so close in age — so they can easily relate to one another.

Hurtado came up with the idea for the youth group/mentorship program after working with Chamberlain students in preparation for Latino Heritage Month. She worked with the students to create a calendar of events.

A Vintage High School graduate, Hurtado is majoring in sociology at Napa Valley College. She hopes to transfer to UCLA or UC Santa Barbara in about a year and a half.

The Kinship program, she said, serves students who may have started on a bad path, but they aren’t “bad kids.”

“There’s a lot of misconceptions about these students because they’re at an alternative school,” Hurtado said. “We assume they have bad attitudes.”

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The reality, she said, is most of these students don’t know how to make better choices, because they haven’t been exposed to positive alternatives. A lot of students believe their bad decisions as teenagers define their futures — they don’t realize they can still have a career or go to college, she said.

“They need guidance and support,” Hurtado said. “They do have goals and aspirations, but they don’t have opportunities.”

Caroline Wilson, assistant principal of Napa County’s Juvenile Court and Community Schools, said Hurtado has already helped at least one Chamberlain student enroll at Napa Valley College, and he’ll begin his first college classes next semester. Hurtado will also help him join the Puente program, so he can receive more support, Wilson said.

“I am deep into my middle-aged years and have worked with some very high-powered, well-connected people who are able to make things happen. None of them have anything on Monica,” Wilson said. “She is compassionate and committed. Her judgment is impeccable... She is amazing. And she is a gift to our program.”

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