I’ve been thinking a lot about mentors lately.
I am turning 40 this year and it has me reflecting about the people who have had an impact on my life. In fact, as part of that reflection process, I am writing thank you notes to all those people, many of whom were mentors to me when I was young.
As I look at my thank you note list, I am struck by all the people who cared for me and offered me their wisdom and spirit as I came of age and grew into a young professional. They are women and men from all walks of life who saw something in me and took the time to help me be better so I could radiate out. That people invested their finite amount of energy into me, that I was part of how they lived their purpose in this world, is humbling and it makes me infinitely aware that I have that same responsibility.
Five years ago, my first book, Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina, was published by Seal Press. In it, I explored what it is like for Latinas to come of age in the United States while balancing what was expected from them in their homes with what was expected of them out in the world. As I traveled to share the amazing stories from Hijas Americanas (over 500 women shared their experiences for the book!), I stopped in at high schools and middle schools to share the stories. At every school, I met young Latinas with big dreams but who did not necessarily have the guidance available to them to bring those dreams to fruition. It wasn’t that their families didn’t support them—they were greatly supported at home. It was that their families didn’t know the educational systems in the US and, without someone to share that knowledge with them, the girls were at an incredible disadvantage.
Within months, a group of women coalesced around these issues. We were from all walks of life but we all held the common belief that resources matter and that empowered girls can profoundly change communities. Together, we founded Circle de Luz, a nonprofit with a mission to radically empower young Latinas by supporting their transformation through extensive mentoring, holistic programming and scholarship funds for further education. Our six year model welcomes members into our program in seventh grade and follows them to high school graduation while blending extensive mentoring with holistic programming and offering the girls a scholarship for further education when they graduate from high school.
In many ways, Circle de Luz operates as a typical non-profit. We write grants and host fundraisers to provide our transformative programming and cover our administrative expenses, but what makes Circle de Luz really special is our giving circles. The promise we make to our girls is a minimum of a $5,000 scholarship when they each graduate. In order to secure those funds, every single Circle de Luz class has a giving circle to support it. A giving circle is a group of like-minded women who want to be a part of making this dramatic difference and thus commit to giving $100 a year to each of the 6 years that their class of girls is in the program. That money goes directly to the scholarship fund and then each giving circle member, we call them mijas, can be as involved as they would like. Some of our mijas are local to Charlotte and can be involved in programs but our mijas come from over 25 states and countries and so many are engaged from a distance. We keep them up to date with our program through emails, videos, newsletters, and other connections.
Our oldest hijas, what we call our members, are entering twelfth grade now. They are radiant and confident, outspoken and funny, clear-eyed and ready. Watching them grow has been our greatest honor. When I think of what I have learned as a mentor in this amazing program, I realize that it is this: that the greatest impact you can have on a life is not by what you say but by always showing up, by being there even when it is hard for you or a stretch, by showing someone how much her life matters- to you, yes, but to the world most of all, by reflecting her radiance back to her. When you are a mentor, the gift you offer isn’t your stories so much as it is the opportunity for the person with whom you are connected to see her dimensionality and her possibility, to see you standing up for her truth so that she understands that it is worth it for her to stand up for it, too.
Circle de Luz is recruiting its newest class of hijas this fall and to welcome 5 more girls into the circle, we need to recruit a class of mijas to support them. If you are interested, please go learn more. It is our goal to have 50 mijas by August 1st (no financial commitment is due at this time) and we’re 15 amazing women away from that goal. Help us make it happen!
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Summer of Feminista 2013 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing mentoring and what it means to them. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista. Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission.