Trinity Church Wall Street, as part of its efforts to strengthen and diversify a new generation of leaders for The Episcopal Church, is supporting a new initiative at the Hispanic Youth Leadership Academy (HYLA).
Twenty years ago, HYLA was developed in response to a growing need to welcome a new generation of Latine clergy in the United Methodist Church. HYLA hoped to galvanize the energy of young people for leadership in Christian communities and develop a pipeline of Latine faith leaders from high school to their called ministries. The program aimed to create more leadership opportunities, access to higher education, and career pathways for Latine students and ensure more inclusive church leadership, representative of the church’s diverse congregants and growing Latine population.
HYLA began as a summer program of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. The initial program worked with high school students who were called to ministry or called to serve the church and supported their journey toward church leadership. HYLA quickly realized that many high school students were unsure of what they wanted for their futures and needed more generalized leadership development and support. HYLA pivoted its curriculum to help high schoolers prepare for college, build leadership skills, and begin to discern their call to ministry.
After three successful summers and the completion of the high school curriculum, HYLA’s first graduating class was so invigorated by the program and community that they advocated for the creation of a similar program for college students. In the years since then, HYLA developed a college program, moved to a new home at Boston University, created a program for graduate-level seminary students (Raices Latinas Leadership Institute), began working with students of different denominations, and expanded its high school and college sessions across the U.S. and internationally.
With the organic growth of HYLA’s programs came a powerful intergenerational mentorship network. Doctoral students and faculty mentor seminary students, seminary students mentor college students, and college students mentor high school students. These mentorships ensure HYLA participants have support beyond the program experience and throughout their educational journey.
HYLA’s model has proven to be incredibly powerful. In the 20 years since its inception, the need and desire for its programming—from both student participants and church leaders across denominations—has only grown. HYLA currently serves between 80–120 students each year and has a strong alumni and volunteer network. It credits much of its relevance and success to its students' leadership, which includes an advisory board that incorporates new students every two years and is deeply engaged in determining how the programs evolve.
With Trinity’s support of two grants totaling $390,000, HYLA has been able to build its relationship with the Episcopal Church and grow its focus on Episcopal youth over the last two years. With a team of five Latine Episcopal leaders, accompanied by three Methodist leaders, HYLA began to identify and recruit young Latine leaders in Episcopal parishes across the U.S. and Colombia for the program. Two sessions in 2022 served both Methodist and Episcopal students in Washington, D.C. and Cartagena, Colombia, and one session served only Episcopal students, reaching over 106 students. The HYLA curriculum was adapted to support Latine leaders of all denominations. Its leaders have seen so much value in the opportunity for Methodist and Episcopal students to learn from and with each other.
Participating students shared that HYLA helped them strengthen their leadership skills and deepen their commitment to serving their churches and communities. Their experiences with HYLA expanded their worldview and exposed them to new perspectives through travel, the connections made, and the ideas explored with fellow participants. For many, HYLA played an important role in their decision to pursue a theological degree at a seminary and to become ordained.
In the next phase of Trinity and HYLA’s partnership, HYLA plans to expand to other Episcopalian universities and seminaries using the newly developed Episcopalian curriculum and hold more annual academies, as well as weekend programming during the school year. These efforts will provide opportunities to Latine youth, build a pipeline of Latine Episcopal faith leaders, increase the visibility of Episcopal seminaries and organizations in Latine communities, and bring diverse perspectives and experiences to future generations of Episcopal leadership.