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Mentor Spolight: Elizabeth Valtierra LADY becomes Mentor

How did you hear about LADYS?

I remember hearing about LADYS Program when my family and I used to attend the Incarnation church. It was recommended by a community member in hopes of achieving something greater than myself.

What did you gain from being a mentee in the LADYS Program?

Something I sincerely appreciate from my experiences in LADYS Program is the exposure to college life and culture. I'm a first-generation student and a daughter of two parents that emigrated to the States in the early 90s. The highest academic achievement of my parents is a high school diploma. The talk of college was surreal, and something that I've seen on tv shows only. So, when I was presented with opportunities to get a glimpse of understanding what a college student's life is, it was attractive. Not only that, it was a Latina in a white-dominated university. It gave me a kick and motivation to start knocking on doors that are closed to me.

Not only that, but I also remember attending workshops where we were learning how to dance Salsa! It was one of my favorite activities and bonding experiences, as well.

What made you want to come back to be a Mentor?

I moved into Charlottesville when I was entering 7th grade. Since then, this city became so dear to me. As LADYS Program became an initiative for me to become involved in something bigger than myself, which was to bridge the gap between Latinx youth and equitable academic opportunities, I've also started seeking out other opportunities in my growing years. I've gotten involved with Amnesty International to learn to lobby for a bill that would protect undocumented students or lobby alongside VACOLAO (Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations) to demand equal rights of driver licenses for all. These opportunities made me more conscious of the privileges that I have and the urge to share them.

Slowly, I started to educate myself in Charlottesville's growth and the community that has been long here before me. I quickly became aware of the negligence that black and brown youth kept facing, especially in the academic environments, so I started reading and learning from others on how to overcome that. It soon became apparent that there are institutional barriers that were placed years ago out of racism and white supremacy.

I took it upon myself to start encouraging Latinx youth of Charlottesville to connect within themselves and to create a community, a foundation that will defy those institutional barriers. But this isn't by myself, as it's a goal shared by many other students and community members that seek to empower black and brown youth and to learn how to process, or heal from, generational trauma that affects the youth and families.

As I get involved heavily with students, I have come to realize how important it is to plug into networks that are already doing similar work instead of continually reinventing the wheel, which would only stretch the resources thin and damage the processes. I've recognized that LADYS Program is a long-standing mentorship that has gained recognition and trust with our local community. Not only that, it shares the same values and goals that I have.

LADYS Program is an excellent example of how we can begin building bridges for our youth. Which is to directly involve our youth in our discussions, to protect and love, provide them many tools that they need, and give them a safe space for growth.

What are you doing now (like are you in college, etc.)? If so, what are you studying, and what is your goal after graduation?

I'm currently attending Piedmont Virginia Community College with no declared major. The goal is to transfer over to UVA (University of Virginia) or VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University). It's a tough place right now because the community culture of a community college is almost non-existent or surface-level. Since there are so many negative stigmas surrounding community college, it can be challenging to find a sense of belonging. As a first-generation student, I'm taking these few semesters as a trial-and-error.

Outside of my questionable academic career, I'm currently working as a Community and Youth Outreach Intern of a local non-profit organization called 'Creciendo Juntos.' One of our missions is to build leadership orientation within Latinx youth and provide them a room of self-advocacy. Through Creciendo Juntos, I was able to do a college-readiness program, centered for local Latinx communities, called "Si Se Puede," where it has four essential workshops that we go over topics that are usually considered as "expected knowledge." This program was hosted at Albemarle High School and had families from different zonings attend. That was the opening to my passion for community organizing.

With that said, I think one of my goals after graduation is to continue to learn how to give back strong and how to use my privileges as leverage for others. I want to move into a bigger city, possibly New York City, but I do think the community in Charlottesville needs a lot of love and attention. Especially the black and brown youth community.

I also want to get into educational policy and plug into discussions that are already in work to make sure everyone is getting equitable access to the resources they need to accomplish their career/job goals.

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