“Thank you for helping us feel good and giving us the opportunity to express ourselves.”

“I felt like coming to this event was very fun and also I felt better after sharing what I was going through.”

“How beautiful it is to share these moments with my peers.”

This is just some of the student feedback given to Identity staff after the Bienvenidos Cumbre (Welcoming Summit) held on March 14, 2023 at Montgomery College’s Rockville campus. The third since 2021, these gatherings aim to welcome newly-arrived teens to Montgomery County, provide an opportunity for them to bond with others with shared experiences and to introduce them to people and organizations who are here to help them realize their dreams.

One hundred and seventy students from nine different Montgomery County High Schools, including four with Identity-run Wellness Centers, participated.

Twenty teens trained as Peer Leader interns helped facilitate small group exercises focused on each student’s unique immigration experiences. These Peer Leaders volunteered after participating in one of the previous summits. Since many newcomers to the U.S. often experience similar traumatic challenges, the Peer Leaders wanted to help their peers feel seen, heard and not alone.

“Working with and for youth is so important,” said Carolina Camacho, Identity’s Program Director. “We want them to understand we’re here for them and that they are not a burden. We want them to find the resources they and their families need. And, we want to hear and understand their issues and challenges so we can all better support their journey to adulthood.”

In addition to holding heart-to-heart conversations, the students also learned mindfulness techniques and relationship-building practices, such as using “I” statements to express their own needs versus blaming others.

“The participating teachers want school leaders to know how engaged the kids were,” Camacho said. “They were amazed that everyone was participating. No one was on their cell phones. And students were really taking it seriously.”

Along with music, raffles and other fun activities, the students particularly enjoyed being in a college setting and hearing from Montgomery College students who were also immigrants and dreamers.

“They were really excited to be on a college campus,” Camacho says. “They were taking selfies and asking questions. There was a lot of information about the college and what they need to do to enroll and to obtain financial aid. And I think they really got the chance to feel like, ‘This could be for me.’”

The three Bienvenidos Cumbres have been hosted by the Department of Health and Human Services, Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, Identity and other nonprofits and government agencies.