One hundred and thirty-seven new immigrant teens mostly came alone and as strangers, but they left with new friends and a feeling of belonging after participating in the Newcomer Summit/Cumbre.  

The March 14th Cumbre held at Montgomery College’s Rockville Campus, the fifth such gathering held since 2021, drew teens from nine up-county high schools including the CREA program. Cumbres have become a powerful way to help young people connect more closely with peers, the community, the school system and with their own goals.  

“Key parts of the conference are facilitated by other immigrant youth who have participated in previous Cumbres and then trained to run break-out sessions,” explained Carolyn Camacho, Identity Program Director. “These Youth Peer Leaders are critical to creating the atmosphere, that we are all in this together and that others have had similar traumatic experiences and surmounted them.”  

As in the other Cumbres, the breakout sessions used a talking circle format.  This was important for creating a safe space and building relationships. One goal of the talking circles was to share immigration experiences including leaving home, journeying to the U.S. and then trying to navigate an unknown language and culture.  

One exercise in particular was very emotional and eye-opening, as the teens opened up a frank and honest discussion of the reality of their lives as young immigrants. On the positive side (see photos) they listed many things such as better living conditions, better jobs and freedom of expression. On the negative side, they listed facing racism, scams, homelessness and leaving loved ones. 

“Teenagers can feel so vulnerable. For them to jump in and share so much about themselves was inspirational and impressive,” says the University of Maryland’s Katie Rotramel. “They didn’t know each other, and they were sharing deep things about their lives, their experiences, their thoughts and opinions.” Rotramel, Project Manager of the Grand Challenge Program at UMD, participated in the Cumbre with UMD colleagues Dr. Amy Lewin and Dr. Kevin Roy, who received a Grand Challenge grant to evaluate Identity’s non-clinical emotional support work with teens. 

Identity Senior Program Manager Monica Wainbarg sees the power of the Summit coming from “youth realizing they have a space to talk, to be listened to. After the Summit they realize they are not alone. Imagine how amazing this is for them. It opens doors for new relationships and resources. Now these young people feel valued, that they are worth receiving this attention.” 

And a survey of the youth after the Cumbre reflects this: 80% agreed or strongly agreed that they feel more connected to other students like them, 70% agreed or strongly agreed that they can identify an adult in the school community who they trust when they need help with challenging feelings or situations, and 75% agreed or strongly agreed that they can identify at least one available resource to help them succeed in their life in the US.  

The students came from Gaithersburg, Watkins Mill, Seneca Valley, Quince Orchard, Rockville, Magruder, Richard Montgomery and Clarksburg High Schools, as well as the MCPS CREA (Career Readiness Education Academy) program. The Cumbre was organized by the county’s Department of Health and Human Services Positive Youth Development Program and Bienvenidos Initiative in partnership with Montgomery College, Montgomery County Public Schools International Admissions Office and ESOL/METS Office, Identity and Catholic Charities