ULead Athens Supports Immigrant Students to Help Them Succeed And Much More

Izzy Wagner


Roughly one in 10 residents in Athens-Clarke County identify as Hispanic or foreign-born, yet this growing population remains concentrated in small, tight-knit neighborhoods, such as Pinewood Estates. A strong sense of community is felt within these neighborhoods, where there is an “open door policy.” 

Brittany López, a political advocate and student at the University of Georgia, knows Pinewood Estates well. When she took on her position as the civic engagement coordinator of the nonprofit U-Lead Athens, she says the gap between the Latino community and the greater Athens community was clear.

Despite Latinos making up 11.2% of the demographic in Athens, López said political representation for Latinos is disproportionate because many community members do not believe their voices will be heard.

However, López says she hopes to see a narrative change.

“[Political participation] is for our community, López says. “We are here. … Georgia is our home. We need to have local governments represent us.”

WUGA works in tandem with the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia to foster new radio voices as a part of its News Ambassadors program. Izzy Wagner is a student at Grady College and a News Ambassador. Interested in representing the experience of Latinx Athenians, she visited Ulead, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping immigrant students succeed.
To listen click HERE.

López advocates for the Latino community through her work at the Public Defender’s office and through civic engagement work at U-Lead Athens, a nonprofit organization that educates and protects immigrant youth pursuing higher education.

U-Lead was founded in 2014 in response to Georgia’s policies that deny underdocumented immigrants admission to the University of Georgia and four other public state universities. Their team offers various services at weekly meetings, including college preparation, mentoring, standardized test tutoring, and scholarships.

In addition to providing educational support, U-Lead has built a team of well over 100 community volunteers, many of whom return weekly. 

Since its establishment, U-Lead has created a successful model through its one-on-one mentoring method. About 98% of its students gain access to higher education, which López says “is very high considering that we have a low percentage of graduation among Latinos in high school in Georgia.”

Currently, 74 students attend college with U-Lead scholarships.

Even though U-Lead is an educational nonprofit, its collaborative work gives students access to resources like mental health support and DACA renewals.

Before taking on a leadership role in U-Lead, López participated in its student services. She says her experience, which led to her enrollment at the University of Georgia, helped her become the activist she is today.

“When U-Lead took me in, I was a very, very shy girl, I was very shy,” López says. “And they connected me with different people, they always made sure I had the space to grow… they provided me with different opportunities to explore my interests, which I’ll always be grateful for.”

López has now transitioned out of her Civic Engagement role within U-Lead but continues to advocate for community involvement and inclusion. By encouraging voter participation, she hopes to unify the Latino community. 

López and her advocacy team participate in canvassing, phone banking, and providing linguistic resources to Latino voters. Of their most recent campaign for the 2023 special elections, López says, “We hit all of our election day goals.”

In a recent interview, López said that by 2050, the Latino voting block will be the largest in Georgia. 

Both López and the U-Lead team hope to continue working to improve Latino civic engagement by advocating to local officials on behalf of the community. 

Cover Photo: Credit: U-Lead Athens

Izzy Wagner

Izzy Wagner is a freelance writer and a graduating senior at the University of Georgia. In addition to her own projects, she currently writes for UGA’s Grady College Newsource. With dual degrees in Journalism and Spanish, she seeks to amplify the voices of her local community and provide fair reporting on key issues.

Editor’s Notes: WUGA is a public FM radio station serving Athens and much of the northeast part of Georgia. It is a member of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s radio network but is operated by the University of Georgia.

News Ambassadors links student reporters with counterparts in politically or demographically dissimilar areas to collaborate on stories exploring solutions to contentious issues. 

Hugo Balta, Publisher of Latino News Network, and an accredited solutions journalism trainer, is a News Ambassador Advisor.

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