2023 Grants Challenge

Wise Up! Youth Education & Empowerment Program

CHIRLA's Wise Up! Youth Education & Empowerment Program addresses educational and economic inequities faced by undocumented and mixed-status students who are traditionally left out of internship, advocacy, and economic opportunities due to their immigration status. Wise Up! connects youth to legal services, college access and career development opportunities, informs them about financial aid resources available to them regardless of status, and develops them as youth leaders advocating for long-term resources for their families and communities.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Immigrant and Refugee Support

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

County of Los Angeles

City of Los Angeles


In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

Undocumented youth comprise only 3% of all enrolled students in postsecondary education in California (New American Economy 2020). Many undocumented youth believe that college or their dream careers are not an option for them due to their legal status, as they think work permits and social security numbers are required or that they are ineligible to apply. As COVID-19 disproportionately impacted low-income mixed-status families, CA Dream Act and FAFSA financial aid applications among undocumented students declined by 16% and 3% from 2020 to 2021. Undocumented youth are also impacted by immigration policy changes and the legal battle over DACA, which had granted access to temporary protected status and work permits. With the growing number of youth who cannot access DACA and uncertainty about their futures, it is urgent to advocate for resources and ensure they are aware of the opportunities available to them regardless of status to achieve their dreams of achieving higher education.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

CHIRLA's Wise Up! Youth Education & Empowerment Program serves 700 immigrant students ages 13-18 at 18 schools in LA County, offering a safe space for students to learn about their rights and resources to help them access higher education and economic opportunity regardless of status. Wise Up! is a student-led space for youth from low-income, mixed-status Latinx and immigrant households to navigate educational barriers and feel empowered to advocate for their right to higher education. For some youth the program is where they realize for the first time that they are undocumented. As many counselors and schools are unaware of resources that can support undocumented students, Wise Up! connects immigrant youth to financial, academic, and peer resources through the following year-long activities: - Academic counseling and college application support; - Financial education workshops (e.g. CA Dream Act, FAFSA, in-state tuition); - Career navigation resources (e.g. internships, work study, DACA updates, civic engagement opportunities); - Summer internship program for 20 students to learn leadership skills and attend a college campus tour in California; - High school graduation celebrations and scholarships to support college and career development; - Know Your Rights workshops for youth and parents; - Peer community for immigrant youth to share challenges that affect their families; - Leadership training to empower youth to share their stories and advocate for permanent solutions.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

Short-term: Wise Up! helps reduce equity gaps in the postsecondary success of immigrant youth by transforming their belief that they cannot attend college due to legal status or financial barriers and increasing high school completion and college enrollment rates. In the coming year we will expand outreach to more students in the San Fernando Valley and Southeast LA. We are also leading a campaign to establish Dream Resource Centers at high schools, modeling the ones on college campuses, to offer targeted resources for undocumented students. Long-term: Wise Up! creates a pipeline of leaders who can impact their local communities, including the 951,000 undocumented immigrants in LA County. Many alumni join CHIRLA's college-level California Dream Network to continue social justice work and become community leaders. We develop lifelong leaders who advocate for permanent solutions so future generations of immigrant youth and families can study, work, and live in LA County without fear.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

As an existing program that has served immigrant youth for 24 years, Wise Up! has had many successes in our youth empowerment work. From 2019-2021 we served 2,270 students, trained 57 interns and 96 core leaders, hosted college access and Know Your Rights workshops for 432 parents and teachers, assisted with 505 college applications, and saw 44 seniors graduate and 39 enroll in college. In 2023 we saw a major win in our advocacy work with state leaders to establish Dream Resource Centers (DRCs) on high school campuses. Wise Up! will continue to measure our impact by: -Engaging 700 immigrant youth and developing them as leaders; -Hosting 8 financial education workshops to connect youth to resources; -Assisting with 200 financial aid applications; -Tracking the number of high school graduates and matriculation in college; -Activating students, parents, and schools to implement DRCs; -Empowering youth to share their stories during CHIRLA's campaigns to create pathways to citizenship.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 700

Indirect Impact: 951,000