In the community, Schools

Migrant student camp a ‘game-changer’ for kids from farmworker families

ONTARIO – A summer camp for migrant students wrapped up recently with more than 100 participating.

The Oregon Migrant Leadership Institute, funded by the state Department of Education and housed at Treasure Valley Community College, hosts three week-long camps each summer for middle and high school students from migrant and farmer families.

The camp aims to foster leadership skills among the students and familiarize them with a college environment to see that college is a reality for them. According to Greg Contreras, program director, TVCC has hosted the camps since 2018.

Throughout the week, according to Contreras, the students participated in activities ranging from a scavenger hunt to whitewater rafting and community service days at Saint Alphonsus Hospital Medical Center-Ontario and the Ontario Public Library.

Each week, the students stayed in the dorms at TVCC for five nights to give them a college experience.

Many students, Contreras said, will be the first in their families to go to college and with that comes barriers that the camp is geared at helping them anticipate and overcome. 

“They’re going to be the first to lead their families to find a career of their choosing,” Contreras said.

Contreras said that besides financial barriers, he and his staff have found that students coming into the camp need someone to show them the steps to get into college.

For many, he said, it is their first time having a mentor who can walk them through those steps.

Contreras said the program typically awards four scholarships. This year, he said, they intend to award 10 more students after receiving $5,000 in donations from local businesses, including Aztec Welding Services, Bellaterra Landscape, DK Constructors, Double M Construction, and Silver Plastering.

Contreras said the scholarships and the relationships the students develop with mentors can make all of the difference.

“A program like OMLI can be a game changer,” Contreras said. “For that farmworker family to have their eldest son or sibling go to college and get an OMLI scholarship and be a college graduate to get a good career with better pay, benefits and working conditions can transform that family for the future.”

One of those students, Diego Paredes, 17, a senior at Ontario High School, concurred. He said the science, technology, engineering and math activity the students participated in, where students tested the soil for pesticides, piqued his curiosity. 

“It was really cool because it not only included the agricultural part, Paredes said, “but technology too.”

Paredes, whose mother and stepfather are migrant workers, has attended the camp every year since its beginning and will be the first in his family to attend college.

Paredes said he gained another mentor at the college fair, a student from Arizona State University majoring in, engineering that he now is interested in pursuing.

Paredes said the camp changed the trajectory of his life.

“OMLI has been fun and educational,” he said.

Students during the Oregon Migrant Leadership Institute camp navigate the rapids of the Payette River last month during a lesson about overcoming obstacles. (Contributed photo)
Students take part in a journal writing activity last month during the Oregon Migrant Leadership Institute at Treasure Valley Community College, (Contributed photo)
More than 50 students from high schools in the Intermountain area, Ontario and Nyssa attended the final camp session of the Oregon Migrant Leadership Institute last month at Treasure Valley Community College. Local businesses that included Aztec Welding Services, Bellaterra Landscape, DK Constructors, Double M Construction and Silver Plastering donated $5,000 to the leadership institute’s scholarship fund that helps migrant students get into college. (Contributed photo)

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