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NHI’s Historic Texas LDZ Returns Home

Posted: January 26, 2024 at 5:41 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Written by: Isabella Sada Nieto I January 26, 2024

“Concordia University gave us our first break as an institution of higher learning when they hosted the first Texas LDZ in 1983. We hope to make this relationship as meaningful as it was back then. We’re excited to bring this program back to our founding city of Austin, so this makes it even more special.” – NHI Founder, Ernesto Nieto. 

The long-awaited location of NHI’s crown jewel program, the Texas LDZ, is now in order. The National Hispanic Institute is pleased to return the historic state-wide program to its cradle, Austin, Texas, and also to its original host institution: Concordia University Texas (formerly Concordia Lutheran College.) The program dates are July 21-28, 2024.

“The National Hispanic Institute (NHI) played a tremendous role in my leadership development. As a high school student, I was selected to participate in the NHI’s Great Debate and Lorenzo De Zavala Youth Legislative Session. These programs enhanced my communication skills, elevated my confidence, and initiated my journey as a Hispanic leader.” –  Concordia University Texas MBA Program Chair and Professor, Dr. Daniel Guerrero.

In 1982, when founder Ernesto Nieto and co-founder Gloria de Leon were piloting concepts around leadership, a visitor entered their office. A professor from Concordia Lutheran College wanted to know more about the programs and the opportunities offered. At the time, NHI’s focus was to serve young professionals and adults, but Gloria and Ernesto were brewing up new concepts for youth. They were invited to move their office space to an old annex building on the Concordia Lutheran College campus on East Avenue in Austin. Little did they know that their partnership would grow. 

While on the campus, they planned the first-ever Young Leaders Conference (YLC) to serve 80 Austin high school students. Sundays were dedicated to leadership development, and in a three-day finale around governance was planned for the students. These 80 YLC participants created parties, ran candidates for office, and wrote legislation, all the while using the house and senate chambers at the state capitol. This portion of the program was so successful that the students clamored for a chance to remain involved and to help the program grow.  With their help, Nieto and de Leon transformed the program into a week-long, residential experience known today as the Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session (LDZ). Once again, the University backed their efforts, and in 1983, a cohort of 184 students registered on campus at the first state-wide Texas LDZ.

“It really is a joy to connect with Concordia University Texas. We’ll always be thankful for those who believed in us from the beginning. They were our first home base. They helped start our traditions and helped spark our College Register. We’ve crossed paths over the years, but of course, being the original host of our first-ever LDZ is historical. It’s always going to be a part of our history.” – NHI Co-Founder Gloria de Leon says.

The 1982 and 1983 Texas LDZ programs would mark the beginning of NHI’s program expansion into New Mexico, Colorado, and the Midwest. In just 10 years, the National Hispanic Institute would host 5 Legislative Sessions and the rest is history.

Concordia University Texas’s lasting impact on NHI Alumni is tremendous. The LDZ programs held on the campus would soon serve as a starting point for many involved alumni in their journeys. These alumni include NHI’s board members: Michelle Saenz-Rodriguez, Melissa Lopez, John F. Lopez, and JP Garcia. Alumni who have distinguished themselves in their communities are too many to name but a few are Cesar Zambrano, Carolyn Gonzales, and Michael Dennis Marin. The College’s participation helped spark many youth, and Ernesto and Gloria, to feel they could accomplish anything. 

In Ernesto Nieto’s book, Third Reality: Crafting a 21st Century Agenda, he reflects on the mark that first LDZ program left on his spirit. He explains that after the students parted ways, he and Gloria stayed on the campus to take it all in. They’d walk on the grounds and reminisce about the laughter, discovery, and energy. It was then that Ernesto remembered his father’s vision.

Si tienes fé en la comunidad, si tienes buenas intenciones y si tienes una actitud correcta, la comunidad responde (If you have faith in your community, if your intentions are good, and if you have the right attitude, people always respond).” – Santos Nieto.

As the Institute plans for this year’s 2024 Texas LDZ, Concordia University Texas warmly welcomes the organization back home. The Texas LDZ once brought 80 students from Austin; on NHI’s 45th anniversary, the Texas LDZ will return to Concordia University Texas, receiving 200 students from throughout the Americas. The institution’s investment in cultivating leadership development is a testament to its faith in our future leaders.

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