Latino studies students learn spiritual leadership skills during Easter Monday workshop

IApril 10th CSPL Workshop (Credit Joanna Arellano Gonzalez)
ILS group flanked by CSPL's Gabriel Lara (left) & Michael Nicolás Okinczyc-Cruz (right) (Credit: Joanna Arellano-Gonzalez for CSPL)

A group of students from the Institute for Latino Studies embarked on a trip to Chicago on Easter Monday. Their mission was to meet with the Coalition of Spiritual and Public Leadership (CSPL) and partake in an immersive Chicagoan experience.

Located just outside of Chicago’s West Side, CSPL is a grassroots community outreach organization committed to spiritual and public leadership. In the local nonprofit scene, they’re known for having a multiethnic and multiracial leadership, a characteristic that has helped them strengthen their mission of using a form of liberation theology to address the needs of local communities. The Institute for Latino Studies has maintained a long-standing partnership with CSPL.

Indeed, ILS’s associate director Paloma Garcia-Lopez is a clear representation of the intrinsic connection between the two organizations. One of the key drivers behind the partnership, Garcia-Lopez is also a board member for CSPL. She’s helped solidify the continuing alliance between both groups, rooted as they are in spirituality and justice, thereby creating a unique element of true, human compassion at their centers. This compassion allows them to pursue empathetic and passionate change and offer vital services.

Her dual affiliation has allowed Garcia-Lopez to work towards fulfilling the missions of both organizations and expanding her leadership skills. She says she has found great value in attending workshops with the CSPL. She and ILS director Dr. Luis Fraga attended the workshop on April 10th along with the students.

“Each workshop I participate in renews my faith, feeds my soul, and shows me new strategies for conducting listening sessions with community members to define goals,” she said.

An Idea Tree CSPL April 10 Worksop
An idea tree (Credit: Gabriel Lara for CSPL)

For the Notre Dame students who went on the trip, they described seeing a representation of community through all of its cultural richness and magnificence. Alan Saldivar, a first-year student studying Neuroscience and Behavior with plans to minor in Latino Studies and Compassionate Care in Medicine, has often visited Chicago in the past, as he is from Romeoville, a southwest suburb of Chicago roughly a half-hour away.

But seeing Chicago through the workshop caused him to view the city in a completely new light, he said.

For being my first experience with CSPL, I gained significant wisdom about the cultural richness rooted within communities — like Little Village — that they serve,” he said. The trip allowed him to explore “the intersections between faith and service, a key component of my Notre Dame education.

Students discussing key themes at the workshop (Gabriel Lara For Cspl)
Discussing key themes at the workshop (Credit: Gabriel Lara For CSPL)

Another student present at the workshop was Iliana Gamboa, a junior majoring in Psychology with minors in Latino Studies and Italian. She explained that the trip brought her hope.

The organizers at CSPL were “a group of really incredible, determined people who engaged in progressive policy,” Gamboa said. The work they did for the day alongside CSPL taught her engaging skills from individuals who have used their faith to make evident progress. Having these experiences alongside her Notre Dame peers is what made this workshop all the more transformative.

Easter Workshop April 10th Dinner Little Village
Post-workshop dinner at a Mexican restaurant in the Little Village Neighborhood (Credit: Joanna Arellano-Gonzalez for CSPL)

From all accounts, the trip was a resounding success. It's yet another step towards building a stronger relationship between the Institute for Latino Studies and the Coalition of Spiritual and Public Leadership. The students also enjoyed the opportunity to explore Chicago’s Mexican enclave of Little Village and eat delicious food once they were finished with the day’s work.

Originally published by Angela Olvera at on April 25, 2023.