Nonprofit plants seed for future US-Cuba relations

By LAURA WIDES-MUNOZ | September 26, 2011 | 1:55 PM EDT

In this Sept. 13, 2011 photo, Tony Jimenez, co-founder of Raices de Esperanza, or Roots of Hope, poses for a portrait at the group's headquarters in Miami Beach, Fla. Five years ago Raices de Esperanza burst onto the scene as a broad group of Cuban-American students taking up the cause of their exiled grandparents but with a more nuanced vision of how to bring change to the island. A non-partisan group, the organization has worked hard to remain above the political fray when it comes to U.S.-Cuba relations. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI (AP) — A group of students and young professionals is looking to strengthen relations between Cuban youth and those in the U.S.

Miami-based Roots of Hope has changed since its 2003 founding as a group of idealistic Cuban-American teens. Today its alumnae have access to some of the nation's top elected leaders, including Sen. Marco Rubio and President Barack Obama. Still, its leaders maintain the group is apolitical, with members holding very different views on U.S. policy toward Cuban. The organization now has 55 university chapters and claims 3,500 members.

One of its main projects is sending cell phones to Cuban youth to help them connect with one another. It has also created a fund to promote trips to the communist island by young Cuban-Americans and offers tips on responsible travel there.