Local Latino youth and their families will soon benefit from increased outreach programs and services from the Santa Barbara County Future Leaders of America organization.

The FLA, a Latino youth leadership development program, celebrated the start of its new Family Recruitment Project last Saturday with a “D’a de la Familia” barbecue at the Minami Center.

With a grant from the Fund for Santa Barbara, an organization that gives money to support groups working for social, economic and environmental justice in Santa Barbara County, FLA will work to develop many more student leaders and help to get them into colleges, said Cristina Gonzalez, FLA’s associate affiliate director.

“We use teachers, families and community members to outreach to students,” Gonzalez said. “We work primarily with Latino students beginning in their 8th- and 9th-grade years who have above a 2.5 GPA.”

Gonzalez said the application students must complete for admission into FLA programs is similar to a college application process, in that applicants send in essays and academic transcripts. The FLA provides, among other services, college scholarships for Latino students.

“FLA has helped over 12,000 Latino students. There are many FLA participants who currently attend UCSB,” Gonzalez said.

Saul Serrano, who currently works for the UCSB Isla Vista Liaison office and is a continuing senior sociology major, took advantage of opportunities offered to him through FLA and eventually returned as a staff member at the San Fernando Valley chapter.

“I’ve really benefited,” Serrano said. “It is a very empowering, very motivational program.”

In 1997, 1998 and 2001, Serrano was the on-campus FLA coordinator and was involved with the Engaging Latino Communities for Education research program as part of the UCSB Center for Chicano Studies.

“We’re really excited about working more in depth with the UCSB community,” Gonzalez said. “We want to have a collaboration with the university where we bring more high school students to the campus.”

According to the Latino Leaders website, FLA is the largest and most effective Latino youth development program in the country.

The organization started in 1982 by introducing 11th- and 12th-grade Latino students to government leaders, aspects of higher education and the business world.

When FLA was expanded to 9th- and 10th-grade students in 1984, the group was incorporated as a nonprofit organization and continued to serve more areas and families.

FLA currently serves the Latino populations with programs in northern Santa Barbara County, Santa Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Ventura, San Diego, Orange County and the San Francisco East Bay area.