NHI Hosts the 2023 Texas Great Debate Retreat
Article written by Bianca Rawlings.
The National Hispanic Institute hosted its annual Texas Great Debate (GD) Retreat this past weekend at NHI headquarters in Maxwell, Texas. Aspiring and current volunteer program leaders were able to spend time learning about their role with NHI founder, Ernesto Nieto, and other NHI staff about the 2023 Great Debate.
Many of the volunteers present were NHI alumni who had competed in the Great Debate themselves. These young volunteers are cognizant of how vital their GD experience was to them and want to share that opportunity for growth with their peers.
“For me, the best part of the retreat was learning how to manage a team. In order to have an efficient team, you must understand everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and have a specific way to measure talents,” Sofia Garza-Serreil, an alumnus who has completed both the LDZ and GD, said. “I’m most excited to see all the progress that the  great debaters make. The GD is a really transformative experience, and it always amazes me how much a person can change in such a short time. They can come into the program not knowing anything about debate or public speaking and come out of the GD with a lot more confidence and skill,” Garza-Serreil said.
“Your role with NHI is an investment – you should expect to get a return,” Ernesto Nieto said to the GD volunteers.
This is true of all programs within NHI, they are investments in youth whom you expect will grow into strong leaders, allies, and peers.
“The volunteers are getting something, too, in return by working with NHI,” Nicole Nieto, the Executive Vice President of NHI said. She spoke about it being a symbiotic relationship between the staff, volunteers, and students because each side, mentor and mentee, are growing and developing life-long skills they will carry with them throughout their lives.
Ernesto Nieto asserted that NHI programs have many assets, many of which were the inquisitive and thoughtful minds in that very room.
“We have the smartest young volunteers from around the world,” said Ernesto Nieto.
Julio Cotto, NHI’s Senior Vice President of Education & Training, agreed with this asset focused mindset. “I already have value, we already have value,” Cotto said.
Over the course of the retreat, riveting discussions were had about everything from student recruitment and retention to crafting curriculum and connecting with the community.
Student volunteers were encouraged to get to know each other, so they could share methods and ideas to facilitate participation and growth among GD students. “Just like many NHI experiences, this retreat reignited my passion for the work from the Institute. I learned recruitment strategies, the importance of creating opportunities that stimulate Socratic thought, and connected with other Texas alliances,” Briana Zavala, a alumnus of the GD, LDZ, and CWS programs, said.
“The most important mission you have as a NHI leader is to make sure everyone on your team is communicating and working together,” Ernesto Nieto said.
One theme reigned central throughout the retreat; it was clear the goal was more than just creating competition-ready students. The main goals of the GD are to promote social, cultural, cognitive, competency, and skill development all while engaging in community equity building.
“Community equity building is investing in a common endeavor that adds more value to the [Latinx] community,” Ernesto Nieto said [emphasis added].
The GD and other NHI programs simply serve as a stimulant that spur leadership development in youth by maximizing the potential that already exists within the student, a prospect that is exciting for all involved, from volunteers and staff to parents and participants. “I am looking forward to witnessing and contributing to the development of the 2023 GD participants. I’m excited to serve in a new role at this years GD and represent the North Texas Alliance,” Zavala said.