Leadership Conference to Focus on Latinas


(Wednesday, May 23, 2007 11:31 AM EDT)

Statistics suggest that young women of Hispanic heritage are at risk of becoming pregnant, dropping out of school and committing suicide.

The members of the Latinas Leading Tomorrow, a club at Wakefield High School and Gunston Middle School, are determined to turn those perceptions around.

Through the club and its first annual Latina Power Conference - slated for Saturday, June 2 - the organization's members hope to defy stereotypes and pave the way to a successful future.

“‘Latina power' means being your own self, and not submitting to what other people say,” said Latinas Leading Tomorrow president Carla Novillo. “You have to have your own goals and follow your own road in life.”

Latinas Leading Tomorrow seeks to provide support and leadership opportunities for its participants.

The club's mission is “to provide a balanced environment of intellectual, social and cultural experiences, designed to meet the needs of emerging Latina leaders.”

Most of the approximately 65 members of the club will be the first generation of women in their families to attend college.

“I like it, because it's increased my leadership skills,” said club publicist Isela Melendez. “It's been an opportunity to grow.”

The club meets most Wednesdays, and members talk about Latina-related topics, study together and listen to a range of Latina guest speakers, from fashion designers and journalists to lawyers and lobbyists.

The club is sponsored by Gunston's minority achievement coordinator, Amanda Ercilla-Trevino and Wakefield's attendance specialist Madeline La Salle and counselor Veronica Covarrubias. They said they wanted to take the club meetings to the next level through the upcoming conference.

“It was a joint effort among all the sponsors to have something on a larger scale,” La Salle said. “We want to show them the network of Latinas in the area, as well as get more exposure for the club.”

The conference will focus on career and college preparation, leadership, empowerment and personal development.

The event will feature speeches by successful Latinas, such as Marisa Rivera-Albert, president of the National Hispana Leadership Institute, roundtable discussions with past members now attending college, and a Zumba (Latin dancing aerobics) class.

“Women need exposure to certain things,” Covarrubias said. “One of the things we're so proud of is we give the students exposure to things, and show them their strengths, so they can move forward.”

Members said they are particularly excited to interact with college students, learning about their experiences.

“I'm excited to, at the end of the day, feel that extra push,” Latinas Leading Tomorrow vice president Johanna Maldonado said. “To see that I can go to college, and use all the information I get, to give my all.”

The conference, to be held from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Gunston Middle School, is open to Northern Virginia Latina students ages 12 to 18. Those interested can call Wakefield High School or Gunston Middle School to register.

Members of the Latinas Leading Tomorrow organization meet most Wednesdays at two Arlington schools.

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