By Anna Pier | Sonoma Valley Sun
A remarkable collaboration is developing and supporting a new generation of leaders for nonprofits and other entities in the Valley. At the end of May, eleven young Latinos completed a seven-month training to develop leadership skills. La Luz sponsored the program and provided the location and course materials to implement a concept introduced several years earlier by boardmember Sal Chavez.
“We are building the capacity of the whole community,” said Veronica Vences, program director of La Luz.
The course was designed and staffed through the efforts of Jeni Nichols, founder and former owner Sonoma Leadership. The facilitators were two experienced consultants, Holly Seaton and Darren Blonski, whose work was in large measure pro-bono. Seaton said her work with this group was “deeply rewarding and humbling.” The format begins with an overview of the five practices of exemplary leadership, and each of these is studied in depth in the successive monthly meetings.
Chavez’ dream for La Luz to empower young Latinos was fully realized with this year’s class. One purpose of the program is to provide the community with leaders who can meet the longstanding unfilled need for Latino presence on the boards of local nonprofits. The presence of youth on these boards is unquestionably an added bonus.
Chavez told The Sun that he had wanted to bring more thoughtfulness about what the Sonoma community needs from the next generation. He believes that “the burden should fall heavily on us, the first-generation college graduates.” He observed that he and his peers were able to be educated here “because of our parents’ pursuits, efforts and triumphs. They gave us our morals and values.”
Chavez serves as Trustee for the El Verano district on the Sonoma Valley Unified school board and has been a La Luz board member for four years. He views the commitment from young Latinos to become leaders as an acknowledgement and appreciation of their parents’ efforts. It is his hope to “change the narrative” of a majority of Latinos living here but few participating in the community.
What does this program offer young Latinos looking to take on a leadership role, both in the community and in their work? Chavez answers that it offers a perspective that he and his peers had lacked, and are hungry for. Most participants commented that it was an opportunity for personal growth and involvement in the Latino community.
Holly Seaton, a consulting psychologist who facilitated the program, explained that her goal was for each participant to see him or herself as a leader, and to be able to identify their voice and use it, whatever their job setting or volunteer efforts. Seaton added that at the outset most of the participants were not aware that they could add value to the community. A comment from one of the participants affirms this: “There are skills we can learn and practice to become a leader, you don’t have to be ‘born a leader.’ It was eye-opening to identify leadership skills in myself and in my peers.”
A unique feature of the program is that most participants are paired with a mentor, an older community member with experience in an area of community leadership related to the mentee’s interest. The participants began their training by identifying their passions, and the professionals and community leaders involved aligned them with a mentor whose experience could guide the young leader to complete a self-designed project reflecting particular interests and skills. This mentoring element is one of the main reasons for the success of this year’s program.
Sandy Sanchez, who works as a program manager at La Luz, reflected, “I thought it would be a great learning opportunity both personally and professionally. I especially was drawn because it included a project within it, not just discussion.” Sanchez’ mentor was Kathy King, ED of Sonoma Overnight Support, and her project was to help with S.O.S.’s social media presence through Facebook and Constant Contact.
King, enthusiastic about her young mentee, reported that after Sanchez presented her project to the S.O.S. board in April, she was invited to become a member. Sanchez reflected, “I am excited to learn as much as I can from the fellow board members about not only the organization but the responsibilities and roles of a board. As the youngest member and only Latina, I look forward to bringing a new perspective to the board.”
Lucy Rodriguez, promoted from front desk to patient financial advisor at Sonoma Valley Hospital, hopes to “inspire young Latinas just starting out to believe in themselves and not doubt their capabilities.” She was mentored by Celia Kruse De La Rosa, marketing and public information officer at SVH. She affirms that Rodriguez, who added this program to an already busy life juggling the roles of career and wife/mother, is indeed an inspiration.
Angie Sanchez, community engagement manager at La Luz, had a mentor from the county-wide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She was immediately thrust into that high-powered group of leaders. Tony Fernandez’ interest in preserving the planet led him to the Sonoma Ecology Center. Mentored by Alana Fichman and Caitlin Cornwall, he conducted a bilingual nature discovery hike, fulfilling his wish that “the Latino community have the freedom to explore the wonders of nature.” Ramie Hencmann, owner of Sweet Scoops, was brought onto the Chamber of Commerce board. Although she lost her mentor with the departure of CEO Patricia Shulz, she is proceeding with her vision of making a photo project about the immigrant experience, based on events in the life of her employee who is a DACA recipient.
Jose Álvarez, manager of Redwood Credit Union, will expand the financial literacy workshops he offers to the Latino community. Elizabeth Campos’ mentor was Laura Zimmerman, former ED, who introduced her to the work of the SV Education Foundation. Nick Mendelson, a new member of the La Luz board, will assist Sal Chavez with maintaining the connection among this first cohort of Latino leaders. Cristina Ruiz-Lizarraga, mentored at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, and has created an art therapy class there. Dayane Mendoza, already a CPA, has pursued participation the 20-30
Club in Santa Rosa. Jorge Guillermo has become an assistant in La Luz computer literacy classes.
At one of the trainings, a variety of local executive directors, including Nancy King of Pets Lifeline, John Gurney of the Community Center, Vicky Whiting of KidScoop, and Laura Zimmerman of the Ed Foundation talked with the aspiring leaders about their own personal journeys. The cohort was honored May 27 with a ceremony and supper at Booker Hall, where family, friends and La Luz board members witnessed the confident new voices of these leaders.
La Luz is seeking participants for the upcoming 2018-19 leadership class. Local businesses are encouraged to nominate and sponsor an employee. This year Veronica Vences will be one of the facilitators. Having as coach a Latina role model will underscore Vences’ assertion, “We are empowering ourselves.”