Lorena Palacios says working with DC SCORES has defined her experience of living in DC.
When Lorena Palacios travels around DC, she orients herself by public schools. “I still navigate the city by referencing, ‘Oh, I’m by Kelly Miller [Middle School],’ or, ‘Oh, over there’s Bancroft [Elementary School],’” she says.
The Las Vegas native is a Communications and Digital Strategy Specialist for DC Public Schools, but her first full-time job in the District was for DC SCORES.
She joined the nonprofit as an intern in 2017 and served in various communications and development roles throughout her almost 5 years with the organization.
And, though she has since moved on professionally, Palacios remains connected to DC SCORES as a volunteer. She can often be found at the check-in table for events such as Fall Frenzy and Poetry Slams, where she continues outreach work she first began as a staff member to provide Spanish-language assistance to Latine families.
“DC SCORES has always been a part of my DC experience,” she says, “I can’t have one without the other.”
Meeting Community Needs
Palacios joined the DC SCORES team while completing her Master’s degree in Sports Industry Management at Georgetown University.
As a lifelong soccer fan, she was intrigued by how the organization leveraged the sport for youth development and community building. “It just ticked all the boxes for me,” she says.
“It definitely molded how I think about the city,” says Palacios of her first season with DC SCORES. “When you’re moving from somewhere else to DC, especially for school, you can very much live in a bubble. DC SCORES was able to pop that bubble and get me into different neighborhoods,” she explains.
Palacios joined DC SCORES as a communications intern before transitioning to numerous role within the organization.
As she traveled across the District to document DC SCORES’ award-winning afterschool program, Palacios developed deep connections with the school communities she encountered. A native Spanish speaker, Palacios’ ability to communicate in multiple languages gave her access to stories and feedback her non-Latine colleagues couldn’t access.
Within DC SCORES, Palacios became a champion for Latine poet-athletes within the program, especially for those who may be the only English speakers in their families.
“Growing up, I had to do a lot of translating for my parents, so I totally understand what it’s like for kids doing that extra admin work,” she explains. She adds, “Having someone on the sideline during their soccer games that can explain to parents why, for example, Junior SCORES games are continuous play is such an immediate relief to kids. They don’t have to worry about being the translator, they can just focus on having fun.”
“An Organization Families Can Trust”
After her internship ended, Palacios was hired by DC SCORES as a Latino Engagement Fellow to continue her work to improve support to the nonprofit’s Latine community.
One of the first small but powerful changes Palacios helped to implement was a rebranding of DC SCORES’ Family Resource Center. Originally named the “Parent Resource Center,” Palacios pushed for a more inclusive title that was “reflective of Latine culture, where everyone has your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and godmother coming to your soccer games!”
Palacios translates for poet-athletes at Truesdell Elementary School during a DC SCORES poetry workshop.
As a staff member in the DC SCORES development team, Palacios also supported efforts to partner with organizations that directly serve Latine populations, such as the Inter American Development Bank and the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “That work grew exponentially. DC is such a transient city so there are always new people to introduce DC SCORES to,” she explains.
And, to ease the burden on kids who, like her younger self, had to take on translating duties, Palacios ensured that program resources, such as event invitations and curriculum requirements, were made available in Spanish. “About 40 percent of the kids in DC SCORES are Latine,” she says, “we had to ask ‘How are we better communicating with them?’”
“Just having a flyer in Spanish makes such a big difference,” she says. “Having a safe space in an organization that families can trust and know they’ll get accurate information in their own language, that’s going to better help them and their kids, which ultimately is what every family wants.”
A Legacy in DC Public Schools
Palacios says that this work was excellent preparation for her current job with DC Public Schools. As a staff member in the Instructional Talent Acquisition and Retention Team — which Palacios says “is just a fancy way of saying educator recruitment and retention” — she routinely works in Spanish to target potential teachers in countries including Puerto Rico and the Philippines.
During her tenure as a DC SCORES staff member, Palacios provided testimony about funding for out-of-school time during numerous DC Council Committee hearings.
She also works closely with individual schools in DC to identify their staffing needs, and her DC SCORES experience continues to pay dividends as she builds these relationships.
“I would email school principals and I would always introduce myself by telling them I used to work for DC SCORES,” she explains. “They would always reply that they always had great experiences working with DC SCORES and that they had no doubt it would be great working with me, too.”
DC SCORES is also often a selling point for new teachers. Palacios remembers working on a recruitment advertisement for DC’s bilingual schools. She recalls, “We were interviewing rincipal Morales from Bancroft and we asked her on camera about what were the good benefits about coming to work for a bilingual school. And, right off the bat, she was talking about the partnership with DC SCORES.”
Building positive community experiences is what makes DC SCORES so powerful, says Palacios. From the city government to individual families, it creates bonds that span the city and bridge language and cultural divides.
And for Palacios herself, the organization has been the foundation for her own relationships in DC. “I know so many people who worked for DC SCORES and are still around the organization. I’m always seeing them at Fall Frenzy or poetry slam,” she says.
“I don’t know,” she adds. “It’s like a legacy. As long as they are in DC, I don’t know anyone who isn’t still around DC SCORES in some way. It’s basically how you build your own community here in DC.”
Palacios has continued to volunteer at DC SCORES events alongside her “DC community” of friends and former colleagues.