Category Archives: Volunteers

Vanderbilt University Alternative Spring Break in La Villita

Universidad Popular welcomes Vanderbilt University’s students once again for their Spring-break experience in Chicago.


The week of March 7th to Mach 11th, 2016, Universidad Popular’s adult education LEARNING TO SUCCEED, English Language Development Program and the youth after-school program had, once again, the opportunity to exchange life experiences and re-enforce learning skills with 10 students from Vanderbilt University’s Alternative Spring Break from Nashville, Tennessee.

13Facilitators and participants alike had a meaningful experience by sharing their why’s and their struggles of learning a new language. Participants had the opportunity to work in small groups which facilitate their learning processes.  Vanderbilt University students from were able to use their language skills to help our participants feel more comfortable asking and answering questions to strangers.  But most importantly, they had the opportunity to get to know each other and share life experiences.

1Universidad Popular is very thankful for this great interacting and we invite anyone who wants to support our community empowerment mission to come out and start building bridges with us.  The only degree required is to care for people.

Here are some comments from Vanderbilt University students’ experiences including a video during our health literacy activity -Zumba

Reflections from Vanderbilt University Alternative Spring Break

I thoroughly enjoyed spending time at Universidad Popular with its vibrant and passionate community.  Though only here for a short time. I made great relationships with the participants and community at large.  I am sad to go, since I learned so much about the people of “La Villita” and their stories as well as a little more about myself.

16Getting to directly interact with the participants and people here was always a happy occasion, and was probably my favorite aspect about UP.  Universidad Popular is not just a place for people to come to learn English or simply pass the time, but a place where the community comes together to learn from each other as they try to better themselves and the community.  Universidad Popular is a school for life.

-Miguel Gómez
Vanderbilt University

17Coming in to tutoring my first day at UP, I had no idea what to expect. However immediately when I walked into the room, I noticed how warm and friendly everyone was.  Cesar and all the participants were so kind and welcoming.  Everyone is really dedicated to learning English, and it was an amazing experience to help them.  Even in just one week, I was able to connect and help my participants. Not only did they learn, but so did I.  I loved every moment from presentations to Zumba to playing soccer with the kids at Universidad Popular.  I wish I could come back and continue to be involved.

Vanderbilt University

12It has been a pleasure working with Universidad Popular this week. I’ve been blowing away by this organization’s mission and focus on the community and its members as more than just clients or students.  It’s been so inspiring and eye-opening to spend time in conversation with all of the participants and hear their stories and hard work and resilience.  I’m so thankful that Universidad Popular has graciously given us the opportunity to learn more about this community and its people.  UP has been so welcoming in letting us be members of this community for the short week we were here.  Being able to partake in the experience here has been an invaluable experience and memory.  I leave Chicago and UP with so much more knowledge about the both the assets and needs of this community, with great experiences, and most importantly new friends.  Thank you to UP for welcoming us into this wonderful, constructive community.

Vanderbilt University

10At Universidad Popular I learned the realities of many Latinos living in the US. It was amazing receiving the drive and desire that all the participants have to learn English.  Better their lives and living situations here.  It was also so interesting hearing everybody’s story –it gave me so much appreciation for the effort they display and the difficulties they face every day.  The kids were so full of life and welcoming to us.  Even though we broke their normal routine.  It was great to see them in a program like this to keep them safe, busy and enriched outside of school I hope to see UP get more funding in the future because this is such a special place to the Latino community.  I wish you all the very best in the future and I hope to visit one day!

Vanderbilt University

9¡Muchísimas gracias por la oportunidad de servir en Universidad Popular durante esta semana! Universidad Popular es una comunidad especial y siento que estaba invitado a ser parte de esta comunidad y familia.  A pesar de que solamente hemos estado aquí por un poco de tiempo. He disfrutado la experiencia de acompañar a los participantes de Universidad Popular en su camino de aprender inglés, especialmente como estoy aprendiendo español.  Fue un placer juntarnos en el esfuerzo de aprender nuevos lenguajes, pero aún más importante fue la oportunidad de aprender mutuamente sobre nuestras experiencias.

Espero que podamos volver a “La Villita” en el futuro y pasar más tiempo con la comunidad linda.


-Octavia White
Vanderbilt University

3The last week at Universidad Popular have been incredibly eye-opening.  My interaction with the adults in the ESL class were so full of joy.  I was so impressed by the openness of the community as they welcomed us into their homes I want to emphasize the bravery I saw in every person who came to Chicago in search of a new life and came to UP in search of a new language.  Learning a new language is a huge undertaking, and a commitment that should not take lightly.  Keep studding because I can’t wait to hear all about your English journey when I come back.

-Arianna Yarrita
Vanderbilt University

6Working with the kids and adults at Universidad Popular has been such an enriching experience.  I have never been exposed to a community like Little Village and getting to know the members of the community one on one was very eye opening.  Before coming here I only saw the Hispanic community as a group of people that exists in this community.  I’ve learned a lot from everyone and really appreciate the opportunity given to me to interact with them.

Vanderbilt University

I cannot say enough positive things about our experience at UP.  We loved the opportunity to interact with and learn from this vibrant community.
From our group’s conversations throughout our week in Little Village, it was clear that everyone had been touched by the stories we hear at UP.
Many thanks to Cesar and every staff member here for their dedication to helping this community.

Mil gracias a todos en UP, de parte de todo nuestro grupo, fue una bendición estar en La Villita.

-Schott Lancaster
Vanderbilt University

7I really appreciate how community-driven UP is and it’s really apparent how much Cesar cares about the community and helping improve the lives of its residents.

I had a ton of fun getting to know the individual stories of the Advance English class participants, and I’m truly tanksful for the experience –It was really educational and I now have a new perspective to look at world issues through. Up is doing amazing work in the community, and it’s clear that all the Little Village residents love being here.  Thank you for all that you do!

Vanderbilt University

18Spending time with the participants, facilitators and administrators at Universidad Popular has been truly inspiring.  From interacting with participants who are determined to advance for their good and that of their family.  To the facilitators and administrators who invest not only their efforts but their hearts into the lives of others.  Each interaction with the people at UP has filled me with hope for the future of the Latino community.

I had so much from spending the week here has been worthwhile. Thank you for opening your doors to us students, as learning about your institution and mission will be one of the most important learning experiences as college students.  Thanks and God Bless!

-Barbara Santana
Vanderbilt University

To connect your students with us at Universidad Popular please contact us at

10th Annual Feria Del Mole – RESULTS


Universidad Popular (UP) celebrated its tenth annual “La Feria del Mole” on September 26 and “El Mercado del Mole” September 27, 2015.

Over 3,000 people from all over Chicago and the tri-state area came to taste, buy and take home mole in these events where 20 women and their families competed with their home-made recipes to be awarded the “Best Mole in Chicago.”


This year’s winners by majority vote included:

$500 for “First Best Mole,” to Table #11 Ma. Carmen Flores, a Chicago Lawn resident, from Cerro del Campo, Amatepec, México
$350 for “Second Best Mole,” to Table # 6 Maria Gonzalez, a Gurnee, IL resident, from Michoacán, Mexico
$250 for “Third Best Mole,” to Table #9 Rocio Aguilar, a Chicago Lawn resident, from Mexico City, Mexico

Special cash awards for best table and dress:winner11
$150 for “Best Table Decoration,” to Table #12 Julia Garcia
$150 for “Best Traditional Dress,” to Table #27 Griselda Baez

This year Universidad Popular helped ( La Feria del Mole has certified)  15 moleras obtain  their Food Hand Sanitation Certificate from the National Restaurant Association  through the ServSafe Food Handler Program (a complete solution that delivers consistent food safety training to employees) which  covers five key areas:

● Basic Food Safety
● Personal Hygiene
● Cross-contamination & Allergens
● GTime & Temperature
● Cleaning & Sanitation.

winner2Our annual event Feria del Mole was presented as a play at Goodman Theater through a partnership with Albany Park Theater Project (APTP), a multi-ethnic youth-led theater who is dedicated to do performance art, and a vision of social justice. Miguel Alvelo, Little Village resident and UP program facilitator who knew Rossana Rodriguez’s work at APTP, thought that this event would be a good opportunity to bridge our efforts and this was how this mole play came into being. Rossana jumped on the bandwagon with a group of youth and came to La Villita back in the Summer to conduct a series of field interviews, the basic ingredients of FEAST.
winner8The idea behind these interviews was to create an original play
based on the life experiences of the moleras, whose stories might otherwise go untold. The performance FEAST 2015 was based on those moleras’ stories and other ethnic groups. Albany Park Theater Project had a success with this performance and the play was available for a month and a half at the Goodman Theater plus a special presentation at UP’s assembly hall.

winner3This year’s 2-day event was a great success in celebrating our culture with Mole at the spotlight of traditional Mexican Cuisine. Most importantly, this family event had moleras working together with their sons, daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even in-laws to contribute to an amazing day full of Mole tasting, performances and entertainment for all. Carmen Celio from table #18 said, “next year I’m going to have one of my sons cook the mole and compete for me, this year my grandchildren helped me, and I was delighted to pass down this traditional recipe of a combined taste from Guanajuato and Veracruz.”

A little history of the winners of La Feria Del Mole 2015:
Lilia segoviano

Maria del Carmen Flores 1st Place:winner1
Maria del Carmen is a native of the state of Mexico, Cerro del Campo, Amatepec, Mexico. Carmen came to UP looking for adult education. During the lessons she learned about La Feria del Mole and decided to participate. Last year she won 2nd place and now took first place. She brought the whole family, daughters, sons and grandchild Karina. All were very supportive during the event. Carmen said the mole recipe is from her mother but modified to your taste and the taste of the public. She dedicates her time to cooking and covering orders from family and friends for the family business. She works making food to sustain the family. She was very happy to have participated during these two years. Her Mole was prepared using more than 10 pounds of a mixture of chile peppers. It took a day to prepare the mole for the event and cooked for more than two hours. Carmen shared, “I have 21 years living in Chicago. My dream is to have a restaurant to own and work out of. I worked in a bakery and I learned to bake cookies and cakes. After this year’s Feria I went to celebrate. Thank God.”

Maria González 2nd Place:
winner9Originally from Michoacán Maria participated in the fair last year obtaining 3rd place. She participated again and this time won 2nd place. Coincidentally the day of La Feria was her husband’s birthday therefore celebrated here with the mole festivities and her entire family to support. Married with 5 children, all living in Chicago for 26 years Maria lives near Gurnee Mall. She traveled more than an hour away with the family by car. She was made aware of La Feria del Mole by her daughter and signed up for the contest. Maria shared, “My mole is a family recipe and my daughters know how to make it and give it the same traditional flavor. We bought 4 pounds of chile guajillo and chile ancho. My family helped me to prepare the mole; it took like 5 hours of teamwork. I added all the seasonings. This opportunity was very emotional for us because we put a lot of time and heart together to share this recipe of ours. I was very nervous during the event. I made the mole last me the entire event, sometimes I gave a lot and sometimes I gave less but I always measured mole to distribute. As a result my sisters have shared that I need to make mole for their parties and family events. During the fair many asked me where they could buy my paste. The whole event was great.

Rocio Aguilar 3rd Place.
winner12From the State of Mexico Rocio brings her great-aunt’s recipe, but her mom’s seasoning claims a flavor of queens of Mole recipes, Rocio is matching its great taste with its distinctive flavor. All participated in the family. Originally from Mexico City, parents born in Guanajuato, Tlalnepantla the mole was a tradition of the grandmother. Rocio’s great-aunt usually makes for family parties and Rocio helps. Rocio would take her great-aunt to the market to buy chiles. “Winning 2nd place was great for us.  We were all nervous at the beginning while standing on stage to begin the competition especially since the nieces of one of the Ambassadors were participating,” Rocio shared. Rocio felt nervous because he had not participated in this type of family event and the stage caused some nerve. “It’s not the same before and during the competition, we worked hard for two days to get everything ready. I like to make mole, for me this process can last one week. The peppers are ground, toasted and everything in-between, this is a long process. My husband said I should of done it myself but we all know food tastes better when my aunts, sister-in-laws, two nephews, four nieces got involved. A good teamwork for sure! My sister-in-law & child’s godmother and their children, including Sandra helped to decorate the table front. The event made me feel very good, and less pressured, we saw a very familiar atmosphere. Each table had its season of flavor, it was amazing.

About El Mercado Del Mole :
Olivia Flores-Godinez

El Mercado del Mole is the outcome of Universidad Popular’s micro-business initiative not only to promote our moleras but also to plant the business seed in their mind for them to sell their mole sauce and eventually start building their (family?!) business using their (delicious?!) family/ancestors mole recipe.

The Mole winners by popular vote, shared their mole cuisine on the following day. At this time we had the opportunity to sit and eat this delicious mole; Doña Chevia (89 years old) tried all of them! Josefina came to buy mole to prepare her dinner at home, “I am cooking the chicken at home as we speak, I just need the mole” she said. The Guangorena’s family heard about el Mercado del Mole on the TV news and decided to come to visit us at UP, Mr. Rangel drove all the way from Streator Illinois to come and eat mole! One of the Moleras created a good variety of dishes using mole, such as Tortas de mole, nachos de mole, and enchiladas de mole at her table.

What I noticed during El Mercado del Mole was that most of the people were seniors that wanted to come sit and enjoy the mole either with their family, relatives or friends. We had the Chinelos, a Morelos dance group that brought plenty of joy on the audience; people stood up and danced with them, many smiles were seen from those that enjoyed watching them perform– the ambient was great to create abundant memories for all of us!

About El Mercado del Mole:
Rocio Aguilar

winner13“It was another great experience, something new and a lot of work to participate in the Mole Market. My whole family joined this hard working activity including my husband, my godmother (sister in-law), my aunts and my parents. From a week earlier we plan to sell. We came up with the idea of presenting the mole as traditionally sold in the city of Mexico. We offered mole in “tortas” (mexican sandwiches), enchiladas (tortillas with mole), nachos with mole, mole hojaldras (burgers).

The nachos we invented here in Chicago because it was something simple for kids to eat and provided the taste of mole. We also think that many people are vegetarian and nachos is something that can be attractive. Some do not eat meat so the idea of nachos was a good choice. It was impressive to see the people who tasted the mole we cook, it was worth all the work. There is no better judge than the people who eat my mole and say “good!, I like this! or it is delicious!”

winner10We would also like to give a special thanks to all of our volunteers and sponsors who helped and contributed to this successful cultural family gathering. See you next year!

Volunteer Voices Series: Ouamar Benikene

This essay is published in our quarterly publication: ¡Escucha! which can be found online here:

An International ExperienceIMG_0251


During his visit last Spring to Universidad Popular, Dr George Palamattam, the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council of International Programs USA, was so impressed with UPrising’s performance that he proposed to us the idea of hosting someone from another country just as passionate as our facilitators about the role of sport in turning around youth lives. After a quick examination on this venue, Dr Palamattam suggested that Uprising consider Ouamar Benikene, a non-traditionall education practitioner that resorted to sport to engage youth in Les Ulis, a multicultural suburb located about 12 miles southwest of downtown Paris, France, for a cultural exchange. Just as our youth facilitators in Little Village, who work with children from immigrants to this country, Ouamar works with French-born children whose parents are still socially and culturally attached to their countries of origin or birth.

Ouamar arrived in Chicago September 6th, and immediately got himself in the swing of things with our UPrising team. Gradually, a strong work relationship was in place for the delight of the staff and participants alike. With our softball team, he help developed a curriculum and weekly lesson plans to help the team have a successful season. Our cooking class was co-facilitated by Ouamar, he shared some of his personal and famous recipes from France, such as crumble aux pommes and fettuccine alfredo. He was also fully invested is our cultural table activity where he shared many of his personal, cultural and traditional experiences. He also shared some of the hardships that people in France have to overcome to be accepted in society. Thanks to Ouamar, our youth realized that although we come from different places, we face the same struggles.

IMG_0011In our all staff meetings and community meetings, he shared ideas that analyzed and highlighted possible problems. Not only was he critical, but he was able to implement activities and necessary assessments to help facilitate a better program. Ouamar was a great help to the Uprising Youth Program during his time in Chicago. Universidad Popular is grateful for his time and the expertise he was able to share with us. Hopefully, we can repeat this kind of exchange more often between Paris’s southwest Les Ulis and Chicago’s southwest Little Village.

You can also be a part of the solution also! Multiple volunteer and internship opportunities are available at Universidad Popular. For more information e-mail us at, call at 773-733-5055 or fill out our online form here:

Volunteer Voices Series: Ana Karen

Ana Karen Manjarrez interned with Universidad Popular from the Summer of 2014 to December of the same year. She had the opportunity to participate in almost all aspects of our organizations. This essay-reflection from her is published in our quarterly publication: ¡Escucha! which can be found online here:

An Internship to Remember


Ana Karen also helped facilitate an English Language Learning class.
Ana Karen also helped facilitate an English Language Learning class.

When I began doing research on nonprofits to  work with as part of my six-month field study, I knew that I wanted to intern somewhere that I felt passionate about the work that was being done.

This made  my researching difficult. After hours, days, and months of looking, I found Universidad Popular. ‘Till this day when people ask me how I found Universidad Popular I answer that it was meant to be: I had a feeling that this organization was the one that I needed to be with. Universidad Popular’s mission, strategy,and programs made me feel an instant connection with the work and population of Little Village. I wanted to intern with them, so I was set on contacting UP and moving to Chicago. After getting the OK to intern with Universidad Popular I began researching more Chicago, La Villita, and UP, to be prepared for when I would arrive. No matter how much research or books I read to get me familiarized with Chicago or UP, nothing would not prepare me enough for what I was about to experience.

Initially I was nervous and scared of Chicago because I wasn’t told the most positive things about it. Regardless of the bad press I got from other people, I knew I had to experience it on my own so when I flew into Chicago I was ready for my journey to begin. My first day at Universidad Popular was great! I felt like people were really kind and open to me being there and welcoming me to the organization. After a couple of weeks at UP, shadowing many programs, I decided to be more involved with the programs LETOS and UPrising. In UPrising, I found myself connecting with youth at a crucial time in their lives when they are exploring their identities and learning about themselves and life. I learned a lot from my interactions and conversations with the youth in the program and I thank them for their involvement because, whether they know it or not, they are youth leaders in La Villita. Being a facilitator for the LETOS summer session and the end of Fall was also an honor for me because I got to meet and facilitate a class to community members that are developing their English skills to interact with people at their jobs, their families, and even people that they might not know but interact with at a store, the doctor or during an emergency. I learned from them and felt like they were welcoming and patient with me as this was my first time facilitating a class.

Ana Karen tutored Little Village youth with their homework--spanning topics from history to culture and mathematics.
Ana Karen tutored Little Village youth with their homework–spanning topics from history to culture and mathematics.

Not only did I work with these programs, but I was also involved in attending meeting relating to Universidad Popular and got to learn more about La Villita by interacting with other organizations that work with UP. I learned a lot from the way that Universidad Popular works with one another, the community and Chicago. To put my experience in perspective I think that Universidad Popular’s     existance is a great benefit to La Villita because it shows how there needs to be more centers, resources, and visibility for the growing Latino population in the United States. I am grateful to have worked with the organization and the people that I met during my six months here, and I hope that my presence here served to show that Universidad Popular can travel to other states and serve as an example of how an organization can work with, by, and for the people.

 You can also be a part of the solution also! Multiple volunteer and internship opportunities are available at Universidad Popular. For more information e-mail us at, call at 773-733-5055 or fill out our online form here:

Give on #GivingTuesday December 2nd, #ILGiveBig

This coming #GivingTuesday December 2nd 2014, Universidad Popular will be participating in the #ILGiveBig campaign.

What is #ILGiveBig? 


It’s the #GivingTuesday Illinois campaign, a statewide social media movement dedicated to giving. Giving Tuesday allows consumers the opportunity to give to the charities and issues they care about. Right after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #ILGiveBig’s goal is $12 million raised by Illinois organizations from 100,000 donors on this single day.

Why are we participating?

Universidad Popular’s mission is to reach community empowerment through participatory learning. We work in partnership with community residents and organizations to transform their lives and, ultimately, the community. To be able to implement our mission, we employ over 150 community residents and committed individuals throughout the year. Over 90% of our employees are residents of our primary Latino communities: Little Village/South Lawndale and West Lawn/Chicago Lawn. In collaboration with our dedicated volunteers, they help us implement over 8 year-round programs, countless seasonal projects, and commmunity-focused social campaigns. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee year-round employment to everyone due to our dependence on seasonal funding–forcing us to reduce our employment numbers by 5/8’s.

We desire to be independent from the uncertainty of grant funding cycles and want to carry out our mission while being able to support these dedicated community residents on a year-round basis.

What can I do?

  • Donate to Universidad Popular and be a part of the #ILGiveBig movement this December 2nd on #GivingTuesday!
  • Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Share, re-tweet, and re-gram #UPLatinCenter to bring attention to our initiatives.
  • Spread the word to everyone you know!
  • Volunteer!



Sanación Colectiva: Hierbas para la Mujer

hierbas medicinales para las mujeres flyer

En los Sábados 8 y 22 de Noviembre las mujeres de la Villita, junto a Jacoba–voluntaria de Universidad Popular–han juntado sus sabidurías para expandir la conversación sobre la sanación colectiva. Han estado revisando como, a traves de la milenia, la humanidad y especialmente las mujeres han recolectado conocimiento y recaudado medicinas que la tierra misma provee para sanarnos de muchos malestares comúnes.

Con un enfoque en la salud de la mujer, han estudiado y debatido el desligamiento de las sabidurias ancestrales con la medicina actual. Re-visitando los consejos de sus madres, o abuelas, estas mujeres ahora están creando un compendio de sanación natural basado en la sabiduría de las mujeres mismas que ha sido reenforzado por varios estudios científicos que se han encomendado a “descubrir” este conocimiento antiguo. El producto final de este compendio será un libro que esperan poder publicar autónomamente a finales de este año. Avisaremos por este mismo medio del mismo, y estará disponible para lectura en las oficinas centrales de Universidad Popular en la Villita, Chicago.

Incluímos aquí la presentación Powerpoint (en formato PDF) que se creó basada en una encuesta sobre métodos ancestrales de sanación que se usó para facilitar las conversaciones:

Sanacion Colectiva Hierbas para la mujer Universidad Popular Nov 8 2014