Saturday, March 13, 2010

Leadership institute gives young women step up

By Pink Rivera / El Paso Times

EL PASO -- Latinitas will open its first leadership institute this week in the hope of giving women a stronger voice in the community.

According to its Web site, Latinitas is a nonprofit organization "focused on informing, entertaining and inspiring young Latinas to grow into healthy, confident and successful adults." Its digital magazines are made for and by Latina youth.

The leadership institute will start at 9 a.m. Saturday at the organization's headquarters at 1359 Lomaland.

"The girls will attend monthly workshops on leadership methods, decision-making skills, goal setting, public speaking, civic engagement and volunteering," said Alicia Rascon, Latinitas director and co-founder. "I definitely think young women now understand

Daniela Gonzales, left, is from Americas High School and Alexandria Villegas is from Eastwood High School. Both are Latinitas participants.
the leadership roles and our goals are to help them reach their potential and realize their abilities."

The participants will attend monthly classes, go on field trips, meet positive woman role models, learn about their cultural heritage, build confidence and explore their own strengths through exercises and activities, organization officials said.

"We want to help them identify and cultivate their own leadership abilities," Rascon said. "The national levels for the Latino community are very high for dropout, suicide and teen pregnancy rates. We want these young women to overcome those challenges and become agents of change."

Membership is open to female Hispanic high-school students, but space was limited to a group of no more than

30. Rascon said the students will benefit more by working in smaller groups.

"With a small group, the girls can get to know each other and work better," Rascon said. "We can focus and work with these girls to be more involved in their community." Rascon said the students will complete 20 hours of community service and two service projects.

"I am excited for this institute, because growing up, there wasn't a lot of opportunities for leadership," Rascon said. "I'm glad to offer this to girls now."

Pink Rivera may be reached at; 546-6156.

Make plans
  • What:"Latinitas leadership institute kickoff event.
  • When:"9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
  • Where:"Latinitas headquarters, 1359 Lomaland, Suite 502.
  • Information:"Alicia Rascon, 239-5051 or alicia@latinitasmagazine. org or visit
  • E-zine connects young Latinas worldwide

    What's Up El Paso Magazine
    By Mia R. Cortez
    Posted February 3, 2010

    El Paso teens Eliana Grijalva, Sara Elizabeth Sanchez and Zyanya Dickey are aspiring journalists. They plan on pursuing degrees in journalism after graduation and are getting their feet wet now by writing for Latinitas, an e-zine founded in Austin in 2002 by Alicia Rascon and Laura Donnelly-Gonzalez.

    “There’s not much stuff for journalism in El Paso and I thought it was cool that the magazine gives you a chance, so I got involved,” said Grijalva, 16, a student at the Da Vinci School for Science and the Arts. “I never had any real experience in journalistic writing, but I’ve since learned how to interview, meet people I would never get to meet before and get my name out there as a writer.”

    Grijalva is part of Teen Latinitas Council, a group of about 15 girls that meets once a month to discuss articles and blog postings on On the site, writers post articles in six general sections: 411, Fun, Latina Beat, Your View, Real Life and Her Story. Subcategories include beauty, body, money, technology, entertainment, culture, geography and “Mi Barrio.”

    First of its kind started as a class project by then-UT Austin students Rascon and Gonzalez.

    “At the time we felt there was a lack of media that affected young Latinas,” said Rascon, co-founder and CEO of Latinitas, Inc. “We met with a youth advisory board and received feedback that girls were not feeling represented in their community. The publications ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latina’ targeted an adult audience; there wasn’t anything specifically for young Latinas. So after the class, we continued on with the project – it was the first of its kind.”

    Rascon and Gonzalez also hoped to inspire and mentor young Latinas.

    “I was a Chicano Studies minor, and I knew that Hispanics have the highest teen pregnancy rate and lowest high school completion rate,” Rascon said. “We wanted to give them advice as to how to overcome (statistics) and use media as a tool for empowerment.”

    Volunteer hours pay off
    Latinitas is a nonprofit that thrives on grants, community donations and volunteers.

    “The first year, we were able to start the website and pay for our domain with a benefit concert,” Rascon said. “All the writing, editing, designing was done by volunteers.”

    For six years in Austin, the site was maintained by hard-working volunteers. Rascon moved back to El Paso in 2008 and started up a Latinitas community in her hometown. Gonzalez still heads the Latinitas community in Austin.

    Now the organization brings in $150,000 annually, Rascon said. About 25 percent goes to maintaining the website, and a large part of their funding goes to educational programs, but they are able to offer some staff and paid internship positions. receives about 30,000 hits a month and works with 3,500 middle and high school girls in the publication process – they write articles, take photos and edit. Their reach extends beyond Austin and El Paso to three other Texas cities, plus Las Cruces and Silver City. They were recently featured in an article in Spain and have received letters from Latinas around the world.

    In November, Rascon was one of four recipients chosen nationally to receive a new Latina Rising Star award from the National Hispana Leadership Institute (NHLI) at the organization’s annual conference.

    “Our goal is to serve more girls in more areas regionally,” Rascon said. “We would like to start a print edition; we’re wanting to make our content more accessible to girls who may not be able to access our site online.”

    Invaluable experience
    “It’s been really exciting to be able to start pursuing what I want to do so young,” said 17-year-old Zyanya Dickey, a student at Mission Early College High School in Horizon. “I got involved because I thought it was great that they allow teenagers and young adults to join their community.”

    Dickey is interested in pursuing a career in magazine or radio. She currently helps edit stories for the Latinitas site.

    “Editing is fun – reading other people’s work, you see different perspectives and ideas, but it’s a teaching experience as well,” Dickey said. “And writing is one of the most important means of expression, no matter what language you speak. There’s so many possibilities, it’s really fun.”

    Sara Elizabeth Sanchez, a 17-year-old student at Loretto High School says her dream is to write for Newsweek Magazine or a leading newspaper such as the Washington Post.

    Last summer, she participated in a Latinitas journalism internship and has continued to write for the e-zine.

    “It has definitely improved my journalistic writing style and it has inspired me to speak and write what’s on my mind,” Sanchez said.

    To learn more about Latinitas and the local programs offered, visit

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    Notes from Alumni

    Latinitas made me feel proud of my culture, something I had been waiting for since I was a girl. I am now studying at LBJ’s Math and Science academy with plans to be a doctor. I know Latinitas has made me a more confident person.”

    Denise Riojas, age 16

    I want to work in magazines now. I like the writing, but can do design too. The club helped me learn you could publish online first.”

    Brianna Walker, age 16

    I want to be a musician, but Latinitas told me you have to make a business plan and write it out on Powerpoint, make a logo and all this digital stuff on a website so people know your tour dates. Our band is called No Exit now.”

    Jacinda Smith, age 15