The founders of student nonprofit “MiSendero” discuss their personal journeys to changemaking

By the MiSendero Team: Romy Greenwald, Jed Greenwald, and Santiago Lupi

Romy’s Sendero

My name is Romy Greenwald, and I am the founder of “MiSendero,” a student-run nonprofit that helps English learners integrate at school as leaders. Mi Sendero means ‘my path’ in Spanish. My family’s ‘sendero’ to the United States began in Mexico and Cuba. They faced economic, cultural, and language barriers.

My mother did not speak English when she started school and was placed in an English-learning program. Her struggles sparked my interest in helping Latin American immigrants. They were isolated in separate classes and rarely interacted with other students. At the same time, I noticed that most Spanish classes did not provide students with the opportunity to practice their conversational skills with native speakers. This realization became the foundation for MiSendero.

There are over 1.1 million English learners in California and more than 5 million across public schools in the United States. English learners are usually the recipients of tutoring — not tutors themselves. This structure does not create feelings of empowerment or belonging among English learners.

Our approach is innovative because it redefines perceived obstacles for English learners and deploys them as strengths. Students use their native Spanish-speaking skills to become tutors and leaders at school and earn community service hours required for graduation.

Students studying Spanish receive help from English learners and appreciate the value they bring. It creates a win-win result for all involved. To date, we have impacted over 1,000 students and embedded the program into high schools across California and Florida.

Being a youth changemaker has helped me understand how to bridge my vision with realistic goals and actions that can facilitate actual change. I have also learned to embrace both successes and failures as an inherent part of the changemaking process.

I try to focus on the lessons learned from mistakes rather than the errors themselves. This mindset has taken me time and experience to develop but has encouraged me to approach all outcomes as an opportunity to learn.

Group photo of Ventura High School MiSendero - group of students holding a purple banner that says "MiSendero"
Ventura High School MiSendero (photo by Emily Bradvica)

Santiago’s Sendero

My family’s ‘sendero’ began in Venezuela. My parents moved to the U.S. before I was born. I was raised speaking Spanish and moved back to Venezuela for several years. When I returned to the U.S., I struggled to understand English and was placed in an English-learning program. I remember how hard it was to adapt. I wish MiSendero had existed when I was an English learner.

I met Romy in my Junior year of high school, and we connected right away. I remember having a conversation about our heritage. We both have Cuban grandparents, and we bonded through our common Latin American culture. She told me that I would make a good leader for MiSendero.

I was hesitant at first because I had never been in any leadership positions, but this soon changed. As I got more involved, I took on additional responsibilities and engaged in opportunities to practice my leadership skills.

One example of this was El Congreso de UCSB. This was an event run by UC Santa Barbara students where they invited Hispanic high-school students from the area to participate in educational activities and workshops relating to Latin American culture.

We worked together to put on a workshop at the event, explaining MiSendero’s mission and how to get a chapter started. This was one of the first times I felt like I could be a leader and make valuable changes.

My personal development and interest in being a changemaker continued to grow through MiSendero. MiSendero applied for the Ashoka and T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge and we made it to the final rounds. I traveled to the T-Mobile headquarters in Bellevue, WA. where we gave a presentation to T-Mobile executives and won a $15,000 grant. This was truly a life-changing experience for me.

My experience in MiSendero helped me gain confidence as a person. It pushed me out of my comfort zone many times and helped me understand that I can make a difference and be a leader as well.

When going through a changemaking journey, I learned that being open-minded and looking for opportunities is one of the most important things I can do. I never regret trying new things even though they seem daunting at first.

Santiago Lupi (left) and Jed Greenwald (right) at 2022 T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge. They are standing in front of a pink banner that says "Changemaker Challenge."
Santiago Lupi (left) and Jed Greenwald (right) at 2022 T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge.
(photo by Anita Presser)

Jed’s Sendero

My path to being a youth changemaker through MiSendero started with my interest in social media. I had spent countless hours building my presence on TikTok to over 150,000 followers, but this success felt empty. What was the point of my work if it didn’t have a meaningful positive impact?

Romy asked me to use my experience in social media outreach to help expand MiSendero’s online presence. Combining my interests and strengths to leverage change in my own community was an exciting challenge that pushed me to be open to new ideas and perspectives. I learned to seek out opportunities to expand my knowledge and skills.

Youth changemakers are in a unique position to help build community and connection among students. My school has many English-learning students. Sadly, most of my peers are unaware of this.

Many students who receive Spanish tutoring through MiSendero had never met any English-learning students before joining MiSendero. Getting to know them helps all of the students at our school value the contributions that immigrants make to our community. In addition to expanding student social networks and improving language fluency, each group gains mutual appreciation and respect.

Being a youth changemaker has given me the confidence and inspiration to think of how I can continue to have a more meaningful impact on my community. It has also taught me to think creatively about finding resources to further my goals.

This year I applied to be a Youth Ambassador for the U.S. I was accepted into the program and will be traveling to Latin America over the summer as part of a group of students who will be working in a community improvement project.

This experience will help me improve my Spanish and ability to communicate with the English learners in my community. It will also provide me with first-hand experience of the challenges newcomers face in a foreign country. I look forward to bringing back new skills and perspectives to help MiSendero succeed.

Group of students playing Loteria at a MiSendero cultural exchange event. Students are sitting on chairs in a small circle holding colorful papers.
Playing Loteria at a MiSendero cultural exchange event.
(photo by Emily Bradvica)

.    .    . 

This article is the first in our “Change in the Making” series, where young leaders reflect on what brought them to changemaking, their insights into making an impact, and why youth innovation is so important in their own words. You can read more articles in the series as they come out here.