Latinas, ages 12 to 18, enter the Hermanitas® program and find themselves on paths to futures they never dreamed possible. An affiliate of MANA, Hermanitas® meets once a month and provides one-on-one mentors, professional women who support the girls in reaching for the stars with the “Sí. Yo puedo.” or “Yes. I can.” attitude that gave me the idea for writing this blog.
An Hispanic girlfriend suggested I join MANA, the largest Latina organization in the United States when she found out the main character in my YA novels is a Latina, because, well, the character had to be; I couldn’t write her any other way. Hermanitas® gave me a venue for contributing to an awesome group of girls and allowed me to learn enough to develop my Latino characters with respect. Yep. For these past 5 years I’ve largely been the only white chick mentoring Hispanic girls. At times, I’ve felt a bit out of place, but the lovely ladies who run the program and the incredible young girls we mentor have mostly made me feel like I belong on their quest for success, right along with them.
On June 6, the Hermanitas® Graduation at the University of San Diego celebrated fifteen Latinas’ admissions to community colleges, universities, and even the Ivy Leagues. Maria Mendez was the recipient of the MANA President’s Award and received a scholarship for her college education. Maria Olea was the Hermanitas’ keynote speaker and will be attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the fall. She told the audience: “…I stayed [in Hermanitas® ] because there were people who saw things in me that I didn’t see in myself, and they provided the ‘how’ [to succeed].”
Director Celina Caprio received a standing ovation for her tireless service to Hermanitas as she passed the baton to Elizabeth Escobar for the coming year. “Everything I am is because I am loved and someone believed in me,” Caprio told the girls. “In the 9 years I have been fortunate to be a part of this program, I’ve witnessed shy girls finding their voice, goals taking shape and dreams…come true, [and] I want you to know…I believe in you. We believe in you.”
We have another 80 girls working hard in school with big goals and dreams. If you’re interested in becoming a mentor or contributing to the program visit http://www.manasd.org/. In the coming weeks, I hope to feature some of the mentors and hermanitas. You’ll love their stories. These feisty females are total badasses.