GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For the first time since 2019, the Latinx Youth Conference made its return for hundreds of Latino students from two dozen Kent County schools.

The goal of the conference is to not just tell the students they can be anything they want to be but also show them.

“I would say this is a great event for our Latino students. They don’t see or have many opportunities to connect with Latino leaders and so our goal is to provide that space to these eighth graders to see themselves,” Evelyn Esparza, executive director of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, said.

More than 700 eighth grade students descended onto the campus of GRCC Tuesday to see what their future could look like.

“We have different breakout sessions that focus on Latinidad, what it means to be Latino and embracing our culture,” Esparza said.

Other breakout sessions focused on post-secondary education — not just four-year universities but also different certifications or trade schools students may be interested in.

For the conference, there were two specific sessions the students requested:

“Banking is another area of priority that the kids want to learn about so we have a couple of sessions on banking. Another thing that they requested are workshops around mental health and well-being,” Esparza said.

Four students also received $1,000 scholarships that they can use for any sort of further education.

More than 100 volunteers were involved to pull off the event. Noemi Tobar Arellano has been involved since the conference started back in 1999. She believes events like the Latinx Youth Conference can make all the difference for some of the kids.

“The goal is the same to make these kids know they’re important (and) that there is a world of possibilities for them,” volunteer Noemi Tobar Arellano said.

When Tobar Arellano looks at Tuesday’s event, she said the future of the Latino community in West Michigan looks bright.

“When I look out at the crowd, I get goosebumps myself. Because I know I see my future doctors, future lawyers, future teachers,” Tobar Arellano said.