By Monica Peña
La Voz de Austin
AUSTIN -- LaunchPad (LP) programs reach out to disadvantaged youths that are at academic crossroads due to at-risk behavior which could determine whether they engage or disengage from school.
LP has been active for the third year in a row at Dobie Middle School and in the surrounding Northeast Austin Community, an area registered by the Austin Police Index for the highest crime for aggravated assaults, theft, drugs etc.
LP empowers students by providing intervention strategies and equipping them to succeed through strategic partnerships with school administrators, educators, community partners and local law enforcement.
Last school year, Dobie was one of two middle schools in Austin that received a TEA RECOGNIZED Award for its high scores in the TAKS testing (Texas Assessment on Knowledge & Skills). The principal of Dobie recognized LaunchPad as a key partner on the campus.
David Contreras explains the passion that drove his wife and him to start LP, "LaunchPad was birthed in our hearts and minds in the early months of 2001 while working in Washington, DC. Rebecca [Contreras' wife] was working at the White House during that time and I was a Deputy Director in the President's Faith Based Office."
Contreras added, "We have always believed that everything we have learned and experienced in our personal and professional lives is to transfer back into the Hispanic/Latino community. Rebecca's background as a teenage mom on welfare and my history of drug abuse and a life without boundaries or a vision for the future is what drives us to reach back, lift-up and equip at-risk students and challenged families."
The program includes: character education, for teaching students that core values for personal success; financial literacy, which is key for empowerment and financial management; leadership, a quality that will make them stand-out; life-skills, which are essential in everything we do; and living a drug-free lifestyle, that allows for the students to accomplish their goals and personal dreams.
David Contreras further elaborates on the service LaunchPad provides its students, saying,"We serve the community through various outreach initiatives to meet the basic needs and open the hearts of the families in the communities we serve."
While David is a native Austinite,his wife Rebecca, moved here at the age of 9 from El Paso, TX. The couple met at an inner-city outreach program in the Montopolis area of Southeast Austin.
David reflects on their history of together saying, "We both come from single-parent homes and with abuelitas that helped to raise us. My father was a captain in the U.S. Army during WWII but was killed in an accident when I was five years old."
Contreras continued, "Rebecca and I have both been actively involved in community outreach since the early years before we were married. We were working with a faith-based ministry called "Power Source" with Youth Pastor Dave Molina, reaching out to the three major gangs in East Austin to end the violence in our community."
Reflecting on the challenges of starting a new organization, Contreras stated, "Starting a new organization takes passion and drive and the right people. We've done 'a lot' on a shoestring budget and a handful of good people, but we also know that we are just getting started. When we first started LaunchPad, our first significant grant came from the Glimmer of Hope Foundation. They provided us with the "fuel" for lift-off."
Since then, the church Iglesia Celebración, local business owners, Walmart, and even Google, provided financial donations toward the work in the community.
David finishes with the same message that he repeats to the students he works with, "It doesn't matter what you don't have, it's what are you doing with what you do have! We completely understand what it means to dream big, aim high, work hard and persevere to change direction and destiny!"