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Telpochcalli Community Education Project

Parents work together at the Telpochcalli Community Education Project (TCEP) in the Little Village community on the city’s west side – organizing events, planning programs and working with youth and adults. Later that day, students from DePaul join them and engage in a wide range of service learning activities.  This is the scene during any given term at DePaul.

Maria Velazquez, executive director of TCEP, shares TCEP's approach which focuses on mobilizing youth and adults for social justice work while running more than a dozen programs out of its home inside Telpochcalli Elementary School and Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy. “In our program, members of the community are decisionmakers,  Parents drive the organization – and young leaders drive the youth programs.” “Everything,” she says, “is about relationships.”

In recent years, DePaul students have been involved in TCEP as interns, Community Service Scholars and through course-based service-learning activities. Along the way, students learn about the Little Village community.  Little Village is a predominately low-income immigrant community where unemployment, struggle to access basic services like health care, and gang violence impact residents. What students see, however, is a different story: the story of a tight-knit community that is rich in people who are engaged in working together and focused on improving lives and seeking opportunities for children.

For DePaul graduate Lisbeth Sanchez, service learning at TCEP not only helped her learn about the community – it helped her build confidence. Sanchez majored in Latin American and Latino Studies and minored in women and gender studies. At TCEP, she interned through a Community Partnership Internship (CPI) where one of her activities involved running Girls Talk, a program for young girls. “I wasn’t too sure I could lead a program like that by myself. No one had ever asked me to do that, but Maria knew it was something I could do and it turned out really great. Some of these young girls that I mentored I still talk to. At TCEP, I found out that I had strengths from working with people in the community who helped me see that.”

Edwin Rabadan, who majored in sociology and minored in Latin American and Latino Studies at DePaul, also interned at TCEP as a DePaul student. Rabadan helped out TCEP in a range of ways.  He was also able to use some of his technical skills – like setting up cameras, projectors and speakers for events.

Rabadan says the organization “taught him about community. It was just the way they interacted – the positive environment they created that welcomed people.” TCEP hired Rabadan to be a youth organizer. “It was my first job out of school,” he says. “When I started and they told me I was youth organizer, I didn’t know what that was. I learned at TCEP that my job was to be the support that youth need.” Rabadan responded by working with youth through a myriad of programs, including organizing soccer games, dance class, mentoring opportunities and many other programs. 

Rabadan explained, “When you come to TCEP, you can see university students working with high school students – and high school students working with younger kids. And, of course, parents supporting all of what we do.”

Yesenia Lopez, vice-chair of TCEP’s Board of Directors, was also a Community Partners Intern at the organization while she was at DePaul, where she majored in political science and minored in women and gender studies. At first, she worked in TCEP’s office;  later, she worked on a fundraiser and led a citizenship class in Spanish. She also launched a group for young Latinas in the area. “I worked with young women between the ages of 14 and 17 to navigate certain stereotypes and get them support to pursue education. I also took them on a tour of DePaul that was a very eye-opening experience for them.”

Lopez adds that “Maria [Velazquez] knew about my background in women and gender studies, and she encouraged me. The program is still going strong. At TCEP, DePaul students can get hands-on experience that will have a huge impact on the community.”

These days, Lopez is Operations Coordinator for SGA Youth and Family Services, a partner and supporter of TCEP. As a TCEP board member, her role includes doing workshops for parents and reviewing youth scholarship applications.

For DePaul graduate Reagan Lee, an accounting major who grew up in South Korea, a service opportunity at TCEP gave him the chance to apply his budgeting and accounting skills in a real-world setting – at first. Later, he helped write grants and mentored students, and his activities included helping students complete college applications and apply for scholarships.

Lee says that for students in the Scholars program, “going to TCEP opened our eyes to how inequality and discrimination affect communities. That’s a lot more valuable than just learning about those things in books.”


When I came to TCEP, I wanted to learn more about the community. What I found is a place where the community comes together.

 

He was also encouraged by how people engaged with each other through TCEP. “One big takeaway,” he says, is that when people are on hard times, they need each other – and that’s where an organization like TCEP is helping. When I came to TCEP, I wanted to learn more about the community. What I found is a place where the community comes together.”

Dr. Ester Trujillo, assistant professor of Latin American andLatino Studies at DePaul, teaches “Growing Up Latino/Latina in the U.S.” The course included elements of sociology, education, anthropology and other disciplines. Students are assigned to service learning placements at various nonprofits, including TCEP. Trujillo says that service learning experiences not only teaches students about communities and their issues – but about how the needs of communities change. “Anyone placed at an organization needs to be aware of the community’s specific needs at any given time,” she says. “Right now, college access is very important for many young people. But there’s also a very large anti-immigrant sentiment and policies that are shifting under our feet.”
 
Being a student and then going into a community and putting what I’ve learned into practice helps me better understand the material

 

Betsy Lugo took Trujillo’s course and was placed at TCEP. It was her first service learning experience. Lugo, who is majoring in media and cinema studies and minoring in Latin American and Latino Studies, tutored and mentored high school students at TCEP. “Being a student and then going into a community and putting what I’ve learned into practice helps me better understand the material,” she says. “It also made me more cognizant of people in the community.”

Lugo recalls a moment when she had an experience at TCEP that took her in a different direction than she had anticipated. “Even though we helped mostly with math, proofing essays or helping students apply to colleges, one of my favorite moments was when I helped a student with a monologue for an audition. I have a background in acting, and I was able to give her a little advice. We both had such a good time. At TCEP, there are so many opportunities to help students in different ways.”

Like many students, Alejandra Delgadillo says she will continue working with TCEP well after her initial assignment at the organization. Delgadillo, who majors in Latin American and Latino studies with a minor in Spanish translation, also took the “Growing Up Latino” course. At TCEP, she worked with college freshmen. “Aside from offering help with their homework, our interactions were opportunities for them to ask questions and for me to share stories about being in college, picking classes and in general offering insight on what my experiences have been.”

Delgadillo offered a broad view on how she benefited from the program. “I like being able to put my knowledge to use in helping others,” she says. “Knowing that sharing my experiences can be of help to someone else is very rewarding. I also like the environment that the students have created for themselves; they all know each other and get along well. Some of the older students will become mentors themselves to younger ones, which I think reflects the importance they place on having resources and a support system available to them through TCEP.”

For Maria Velazquez, DePaul students fit in well with an organization so focused on collaboration, faith in the power of community and an up-close understanding of the needs of the people who live there. “We have had beautiful and very meaningful experiences with DePaul students,” says Velazquez.  “For us, these students help in many ways. For the students, they find themselves through their experiences here. They begin to think about their purpose and what they want to do with their lives.”

TCEP logo

Telpochcalli Community Education Project (TCEP) mobilizes youth and adults for social justice work by building individual capacity, collective power, and mutual responsibility through culturally relevant and community-directed education,     leadership development, and organizing