Last year, a group of neighborhood youth took to a plain, meek building façade in Pilsen and transformed it into a vibrant and culturally reflective mural. Around the same time, a group of adult and youth actors collaborated to write and produce an original play, addressing some of the heartaches undocumented immigrants face in America. Both projects, strong on highlighting Latino cultural life and perspectives, were part of Latinos Progresando, a non-profit organization that’s dedicated to providing immigrant services to the community.

For more than 10 years, Latinos Progresando has been a legal resource to immigrant families living in Pilsen, Little Village and Back of the Yards. It has provided aid with various legal services including family petitions, adjustment of statuses, domestic violence and has been a strong advocate for the DREAM Act. Most recently, it has come to incorporate theatre and mural projects, like the one done in Pilsen, to not only involve youth but to be an avenue of communication and awareness for immigrant issues.

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“Arts are really important in any community,” says Luis Gutierrez, executive director of Latinos Progresando.  “There’s so much artistic talent in the Latino community that’s not being used to its full potential. Having a theatre program allows us to reach out to a lot of youth. They get to write and read a lot and they get to work on speaking in public. We’re taking something that’s fun, interesting, that’s really talking about who they are and the things they’re going through in the community and showcasing them, building stronger leaders.”

Similarly, the mural project, which Gutierrez plans to implement again this year, seeks to transform the look of communities while simultaneously working with youth to demonstrate things about themselves, their families and their culture.

Latino Progresando’s College-Bound Youth Group, another program focused on building strong leaders, encourages youth to attend college –despite their legal status. Youth are taken on college tours, taught how to access financial aid and most importantly, taught how to succeed in college. Many of the youth involved have gone on to attend four-year universities, including Yale University, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago.

“We understand that there’s a huge wall for our students who are undocumented to be able to pay for college,” says Gutierrez. “We try to raise funds so students could receive money to go to college, without worrying about their status.”

The organization holds a number of fundraisers throughout the year, including their annual benefit, which invites family, friends and partners to coincide in support of building strong immigrant communities. This year’s benefit, Tomorrow’s Heroes Today, will a be a platform to announce the recipients of the Fichera and Miller Law Firm Scholarship, a scholarship offered by the youth group and the organization to high school graduating seniors.

Latinos Progresando’s involvement and dedication to its immigrant community has brought the organization and Gutierrez acclaimed recognition.  This year, Gutierrez was awarded the MALDEF Community Service Award and an award by the University of Chicago for his service in the community. According to Gutierrez, although the awards were given to him, it’s a reflection of his entire staff’s devotion to the cause.

But better still, Latinos Progresando’s legal services program has become a model for other non-profit organizations around the state, according to Gutierrez.

“We are reaching out to organizations who want to start non-profits and we help them figure out how to do it,” says Gutierrez.

It’s recognition like that, along with the advancement of the immigrant community which continues to make Latinos Progresando  a vital  tool for the empowerment of Latinos in the city.

Tomorrow’s Heroes Today Annual Benefit, Thursday June 23 at La Taberna Tapas 1301 S. Halsted St. 6:00pm-9:00pm Ticket Price: $100

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