PALMA families with the board of the Ann Arbor District Library at their May 2018 board meeting where PALMA was honored with a resolution. 

What started as a plea for help 15 years ago has become a successful student-run organization at the University of Michigan.  

PALMA, which stands for Proyecto Avance: Latino Mentoring Association, began in 2003 when local Latinx families reached out to Residential College Spanish Language lecturer Cristhian Espinoza-Pino to help find tutors in the community for their children. Finding little, Cristhian engaged two of his colleagues in the Spanish Language program in the RC and two student volunteer tutors to begin meeting with the seven children. Since then, the program has ballooned to 75 U-M student tutors, as well as a number of community members and students from local high schools and EMU and Washtenaw Community College. This fleet of dedicated volunteers meets twice a week with 110 tutees from Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, though the need is regrettably greater than the program can handle and they've had to maintain a waiting list for the past several years. The clients, mostly children, meet with their tutors at the Ann Arbor Downtown District Library thanks to the support of the AADL staff including Terry Soave and Beth Manuel. U-M students fill the PALMA executive board, and Cristhian serves as both their advisor as well as the lead contact in the local Latinx community. Together they carefully consider the needs of the clients with the abilities of tutors to make the best match-ups that will enhance the language skills of both, and give a platform for the clients to share about their cultures and traditions. Cristhian is always looking for more native Spanish speakers because, as he says, "they demonstrate to their tutees that Latinos are an important part of the U-M community."

PALMA hosted a 15th anniversary party on April 14, 2020 for over 200 community members at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Ann Arbor. Highlights of the milestone event included the announcement of the first-ever PALMA client to be accepted to University of Michigan, as well the conferring of award recognition to seven tutors who have volunteered with PALMA for three or more years, the majority of whom tutored the same clients throughout their entire college career. 

On May 21, the board of directors of the Ann Arbor District Library honored PALMA and Cristhian with a resolution recognizing PALMA's 15th anniversary of tutoring and building community at the downtown library site. (Photo at top)

Olivia Wood is a Spanish and International Studies double major from Berkley, MI. She received an RC Janet Senior Award for her exceptional work in the Spanish Language and with PALMA, and was recognized at the 15th Anniversary for being a tutor all four years at U-M.

"PALMA has been one of the most influential experiences of my college career. Tutoring with PALMA twice a week gave me an opportunity to get involved in the Ann Arbor/Ypsi community, as well as to create meaningful relationships with students and positively impact the outcome of their lives."

PALMA president Katelyn Johnson seen here with one of her Pre-K students, ready for the fiesta! Katelyn is a double major in Biomolecular Science and Spanish and hails from Negaunee, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. 

"After graduation, I plan to go to dental school to become a general dentist. My hopes are to work in the future within a Spanish-speaking community to be able to continue to use my Spanish and work with this community that has completely stolen my heart. I really want to be able to provide dental care for underserved communities and to have the opportunity to make Spanish-speaking patients more comfortable. I am also hoping to spend some time in the Dominican Republic before starting dental school doing service: working in a preschool and in clinics with a non-profit organization."

Cristhian Espinoza-Pino has been teaching in the Spanish Language program in the RC since 2002, and he founded PALMA in 2003. Cristhian is a Lecturer IV in the RC, where he teaches advanced language seminars with a focus on socio-political issues and serves as the faculty advisor to PALMA.