Adelante Chicas Work with Young Women to Create Leaders
Adelante Chicas is reaching girls ages 9 to 16 through non-traditional, bilingual afterschool programming, leadership opportunities, and community involvement. It is the first program of its kind in Oregon to provide a comprehensive and proactive approach to empower Latina girls. A main focus of the program is working in partnership with the families of participating girls to strengthen the Chicas’ foundation; positive cultural identity. Colors of Influence talked with Adelante Chicas Program Director Nancy Ochoa to learn more about the groundbreaking program.
What are the main goals of the Adelante Chicas program?
Nancy Ochoa, Program Director Adelante Chicas
Our main goal is empowerment: making sure that the young women we work with feel that sense of self-worth and self-efficacy. We’re developing leaders. We want the girls to be leaders in their own lives, within their families and in their community. That starts with making sure that girls have a strong sense of themselves – ethnically, and as females. Women play a huge part in families, and we want to make sure we’re engaged in developing strong women.
Adelante Chicas is designed as a holistic program: we take into consideration the needs of the community, which includes not just the youth, but their parents and the community at large. In terms of outcomes, we really want to continue to contribute to the development of the girls’ self-efficacy, academic engagement, community involvement and their cultural identity. We want them to be able to integrate into society as whole beings with integrity. We encourage them not to forget or leave behind their cultural identity.
When we started, we built a partnership with the school district, to identify the schools that would benefit the most from this program. We decided to start in Forest Grove School District because of its high Latino population. We work in five different sites. We meet with girls on a weekly basis. We’re serving four schools in Forest Grove, and one in Hillsboro through our partnership with Bienestar. We really work on building their community. We support their empowerment, and branch out into the community.
The program was launched in 2008. We started out with three schools, working with 55 girls. Now we’re serving three times that. We get to do more in-depth work with the girls and engage the parents, because we have more resources. Helping us build stronger connections. To date, we’ve been able to register over 200 girls. Our goal is to continue to expand to be able to serve more girls and their families.
What community needs does the program seek to address?
In terms of community needs – as an organization, we want to address language and cultural barriers. Those issues are huge for adults in the workplace, and we want our young women to well-prepared for the workplace.
Language also plays an important part in our work with parents. It can pose a limitation to interacting with their children, or navigating school systems and dealing with teachers. We try to address that need through our adult education programs and Adelante Chicas. We try to offer more opportunities for community members to attain education. We understand that language barriers go hand-in-hand with education limitations. Because quality of life is enhanced by education, our programs are designed to address that need. Adelante Mujeres’ adult education program focuses on language acquisition classes.
Gender bias is also a key focus. Unfortunately its effects are very real, and it limits both men and women. This is not limited to the Latino culture. The programs are gender-specific as they are designed to give women the tools to be able to create working relationships with men.
Who are the girls served by the program?
Most of the girls are first or second-generation immigrants. Most of them have parents who migrated from Mexico. We do have a few girls from Central America. We serve girls from ages 10-18 (4 th to 12 th grade)
A big stereotype faced by the community is that Latinos drain resources – and that they haven’t earned these resources. We also come up with the controversial topic of immigration. Latinos are always presented as “illegals.” No human is illegal.
Action speaks louder than words. That is why Adelante Mujeres engages in programs that create jobs both in our microenterprise program and organic farming. Not only do these programs create jobs, they are also sustainable and helps create community. Our participants contribute to environmentally friendly practices. Our youngest participants are very involved in volunteering with the programs.
The other stereotype is that Latinos are not interested in bettering themselves. What we see with Latinos is that they are working very hard. In a lot of circumstances, they do back-breaking work that would leave most of us without the energy to do anything else. But in fact we have a long waiting list for our programs. We have lots of women wanting to get into adult education, or the micro-enterprise program.
What successes are you most proud of?
We’re delighted that for most of our chicas, once they’ve been through our program, they know that they want to take the first steps toward college.
One of the most rewarding things about the program is seeing what it has become. how the girls are developing, and what they’re contributing to community as a result of their engagement with the program. It’s rewarding to see the larger community – our funders and supporters – believe in what the program can accomplish.
What is your career path leading up to your current post?
I’ve always known that I wanted to work with people, particularly those who are very strong-willed and resilient. People who face challenges and keep going.
How does your cultural background impact your work?
I was born in Mexico, and my Mom was a farmworker when she immigrated to the States. Having the first-hand experience of the barriers that come with my background is big. It really helps me have the approach of a strength-based focus. I recognize people’s potential, and what people bring to the table. It has helped me see the strengths that people have, instead of the things they lack. Having lived through those challenges, and developing a strong character, I also developed high expectations of people who have a strong, challenging background.
What do you find most gratifying about working with young women?
My Mom was a single Mom, and she had four girls. Being in a female-led environment, and knowing how much power we have. We were very self-sufficient. I learned early on the difference we can make in each other’s lives. That’s why it’s really important for me to continue work to help develop strong women in our community.
What do you enjoy most about the work that you do?
It’s great to be able to work with the girls and their families, and know that we’re touching their lives in a positive way. It’s a real honor to learn from them. I love the people we work in partnership with, people who believe in us, and those just starting to get to know us.
I’m definitely a learner. One of my rewards is getting to learn from everybody all the time: from the families, the chicas, the staff, and the community. I’m also very goal-driven, so seeing results in another big thing. Seeing what’s possible when you set your mind on something.
Spring 2010 Colors of Influence