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Paso del Norte region leadership initiative for women awarded by UTEP

(From left to right) President Diana Natalicio presents Guillermina Nuñez- Muchiri, Areli Chacón, Cynthia Marentes and Liz Chavez with UTEP’s Outstanding Team Service Award on Feb. 28 at Magoffin auditorium.

After the 2016 Wise Latinas International Findings and Impact Report shed light on the injustices and barriers that Latina women of El Paso were facing, a group of women set out to put a stop to the inequity. 

These women decided to create LEAD (Leadership, Education, Advocacy and Development), which is part of Wise Latina International, a non-profit organization serving the cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez as well as parts of New Mexico. WSL empowers women to overcome cultural and economic challenges through entertainment and cultural performing arts, among other activities.

Women who want to join the leadership training program have to fill out an application and provide WSL with a synopsis of a program or an idea that would benefit the communities WSL identified as in need of support.

Liz Chavez, president and founder of WSL, said that a committee then goes over all the applications and selects finalists who have the best projects. After this, another interview process takes place, where organizations, elected officials, people involved in the business area and others help select the group of women who will be supported in their projects.

“They had to give us a three-minute pitch of the idea they have for a project that would address some of the needs that we had identified,” Chavez said. “So we selected seven fellows, who are now going through the first inaugural class.”

Some of the women in the inaugural class of LEAD worked in establishing a community bank that would lend money to women, who otherwise would not get loans, to start a business or to provide for their family.

Other women worked on projects that would help kids with disabilities, while others decided to help people find affordable housing. LEAD and WSL members served as mentors.

LEAD offered these women different training sessions, speakers, workshops and seminars as part of their leadership and education training.

“We wanted to inspire them and let them know that they can achieve whatever they have in mind,” Chavez said. “We were pretty much their mentors, who guided them in the ways to achieve their goals.”

These seven women will become WSL fellows and will help mentor the next generation of women who enter this training program.

“We’ll have their graduation in April or May of this year, and once they graduate, they’ll become Wise International Latina fellows, and we will be monitoring and supporting each of their projects,” Chavez said.

Chavez, said that LEAD is a leadership initiative that is trying to empower women who are dedicated to serving the El Paso region by helping them recognize the socioeconomic, educational and other needs and priorities in the El Paso del Norte region.

Chavez said that the report identified several issues pertinent to Latina women in El Paso that needed to be addressed and resolved. She said that housing, healthcare, education attainment, opportunities and advancement were among the biggest problems they were struggling with.

“What I envisioned was to enhance leadership and abilities of Latina women to transform communities through social justice, equity, empowerment and through education,” Chavez said.

Professor and director of Women’s and Gender Studies Program, Guillermina Nuñez-Mchiri, said that LEAD is a way for women to work toward achieving gender equality.

“We want to invest in women who want to invest in improving their own lives and the lives of others,” said Nuñez, who is also the faculty co-chair for LEAD. “Women are the head of many households. We need equality and we need women to have the power to achieve that.”

Cynthia Marentes, director of community engagement for the College of Liberal Arts and committee member with LEAD, said that one of the reasons why she joined this initiative was because she wanted to look at opportunities for UTEP to become more engaged with the community.

“We wanted to look at what was out there for faculty to connect with the community and maybe develop their own projects—it could be a community service project, a research project,” Marentes said. “We take pride in serving and helping Latinas because we’re affected in so many ways that initiatives like these can really make a difference.”

Areli Chacón, co-chair of the curriculum committee of LEAD and director of the master of leadership studies program at UTEP, said that working for LEAD has been a rewarding journey that has inspired her to work harder in everything she does.

“It has been a great experience. It’s one of those that you only have once in a lifetime,” Chacon said. “It’s an honor to work with such a great group of women—that are so intelligent, brilliant, hardworking and highly committed to the community.”

On Feb. 28, LEAD received UTEP’s Outstanding Team Service Award, during the annual meritorious awards for service ceremony, which recognizes outstanding achievements by staff and faculty members at UTEP.

“It was a great feeling, the efforts of all these very hardworking and intelligent women were being recognized by the institution,” Nuñez said.

For more information on LEAD and Wise Latina International, contact them at (915) 204-3871 or by email at [email protected].

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Rene Delgadillo, Multimedia Editor
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Paso del Norte region leadership initiative for women awarded by UTEP